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2013 Cast Iron Skillet Cook-Off: The Competition

February 6, 2013

Imagine a high amount of nervous energy, a mix of skill levels and an amazing collection of food mostly from local sources and you might begin to come close to what the ballroom at the Greenbrier experienced Saturday, February 2. The Cast Iron Skillet Cook-Off attracts top chefs from West Virginia and this year a few from nearby states in Appalachia. It is a wonderful celebration of the way Appalachian Cuisine has evolved to reflect modern interpretations of the heritage of the cooking that was processed historically in these mountains.

Eight teams competed in Cast Iron Competition.  They included The Bank (Pearrisburg, Virginia), Diogi’s (Fayetteville), the Greenbrier Golf Classic (White Sulphur Springs), Laurel Vista Farms (Somerset, Pennsylvania), Panorama at the Peak (Berkeley Springs), Pierpoint Culinary Academy (Fairmont), WV Generations (Rumsey), and WVU Alumni (Morgantown). Each team consisted of the chef and a sous-chef, seven people with various levels of experience, and one high school Pro-Start student.




DSC_0201DSC_0267Three teams competed in the Throwdown. These were the top three winning teams from the 2012 Competition and included  Bridgeport Conference Center at Charles Point  (Bridgeport), Mountwest Culinary School  (Huntington) and WVU Small Farm Center (Morgantown). Each team consisted of the chef and a sous-chef, seven people with various levels of experience, and one high school Pro-Start student.DSC_0238DSC_0189

DSC_0181DSC_0150DSC_0236DSC_0186DSC_0239This year a new class of competition was included for the first time. As the reputation of the Cast Iron Skillet Cook-Off has risen, interest from outside West Virginia has increased. Three teams of chefs competed in the Superbowl. Representing West Virginia were the three chefs from last year’s Throwdown accompanied each by an advanced culinary student.  Teams from Asheville, North Carolina and the Tri-Cities region of southwestern Virginia and northeastern Tennessee also competed.DSC_0228DSC_0178DSC_0104DSC_0205DSC_0212

DSC_0211Award Winners

Cast Iron Cook-Off Competition

Best Use of Cast Iron:
TIE:   The Bank Food and Drink  & Panorama at the Peak

Best Teamwork:
Laurel Vista Farm (HM)

Whistle while you work:
Panorama at the Peak
WVU Alumni (HM)

Table Presentation:
TIE:  The Bank Food and Drink  &  Panorama at the Peak (HM)

Best Use of Appalachian Produce
Laurel Vista Farm
West Virginia Next Generation (HM)

Best Use of Protein
WVU Next Generation
Tie:  Greenbrier Golf Classic and The Bank Food and Drink (HM)

Best Use of Value Added:
WVU Ericson
Greenbrier Golf Classic

Overall Champion
Pierpont Culinary

Best Single Course
Greenbrier Golf Classic

Best Menu
Pierpont Culinary

People’s Choice Award
The Bank Food and Drink

The Throwdown

Winner:  Mountwest

Culinary Superbowl

Winner:  Asheville, NC

2013 Cast Iron Skillet Cook-Off Coat Reception

February 5, 2013

Fifteen teams from within Appalachia gathered at the Greenbrier Resort on Februrary 1 and 2 for the 8th annual Cast Iron Skillet Cokk-off. Eight teams from West Virginia participated in the regular competition. The three top ranking teams from last year competed in the Throwdown. This year the chefs from the three Throwdown teams joined with an assistant each to form Team WV and competed against chefs from Asheville, NC and Tri-Cities, VA/TN.

This is the first of several entries explaining what went on there and the impressive dishes that were prepared within the allotted time. For now, please enjoy the photos.First, images from Friday night’s Coat Reception.DSC_0055DSC_0059DSC_0076DSC_0069DSC_0050DSC_0047

For some of the participants this is the first time ever they have been given a chef’s coat.  The realization that the event is a real competition begins to hit.DSC_0052DSC_0082DSC_0079DSC_0081DSC_0086


West Virginia’s Greenbrier has Big Doings

February 1, 2013

It’s often described as the Olympics of the Food World. Entering its 26th edition in 2013, the Bocuse D’Or—a biennial competition started by one of the fathers of French cooking,  Paul Bocuse, that brings together the best chefs in a country, and then the world—is one of the great culinary honors.



In 2012 the top toque award at the U.S.A. competition went to Chef Richard Rosendale of  The Greenbrier.  He went on with his team to compete January 30 in Paris and came in 7th place out of 24 teams!!

This weekend the Greenbrier will be the location of one of West Virginia’s most acclaimed cooking competitions. The Cast Iron Skillet Cook-Off is organized by the Collaborative for 21st Century Appalachia to spotlight the region as a culinary destination.

Fourteen teams will be participating in three different cooking competitions on Saturday, February 2. If you can not go to Greenbrier to cheer them on, you can watch the event which will be live-streamed by Bethany College’s Department of Communications.  Go to to join in the festivities! The cook-off starts at 9:30 and the awards ceremony at 5p.m.judges a 2 forks up

Tune In

January 28, 2013

The Cast Iron Skillet Cook-Off scheduled for Friday and Saturday, February 1st and 2nd at The Greenbrier is a gathering of some of the region’s best chefs and cooks, farmers and state officials. The competition demonstrates the amazing talents of eight teams  from all over West Virginia. Each team will prepare four courses for the judges and one dish of each course will be on display for a People’s Choice award. People can visit the competition and vote for their favorite display.soup

The three top teams from last year will be competing in a Throw-Down, preparing a three-course meal for tables of eight people who have paid for the treat.  Also judged, the expectations are high and the competitive atmosphere may be a bit more tense.diners

As the reputation of the Cast Iron Skillet Cook-Off has spread, a third competition will be held this year.  There will be also be a SuperBowl where three teams will cook. The chefs from last year’s ThrowDown will represent West Virginia but there will also a team from the Asheville, North Carolina area and another from southwestern Virginia/northeastern Tennessee.prep

Meanwhile, in another part of the Greenbrier, an informativel Colloquium will be running, presenting concepts as well as experiences that will enhance cultural tourism of the Appalachian region. Attendees will hear about how music, art and food can attract travelers who are looking to experience the region’s best.

Bethany_College_WV_logoYou can watch it all! Bethany College, located in West Virginia’s northern panhandle, has a world class Communications Department. M.E. Gamble, Department Chair, has been attending the Cast Iron event for many years in various capacities. This year she and her students will be providing a live-stream video feed that you can  watch by going to Streaming will start Saturday at 9:30.

So, if you can’t attend to cheer on your favorite chef, watch the live stream and you will get to see all the fun, even if you can’t enjoy the aromas!cooking 7busybbacon

REALLY Learning to Cook

January 24, 2013

In many households it seems that dinner preparation has become a task of taking something out of the freezer and using the microwave to heat it.  A lot of people say they don’t have time to cook and so, children are not learning how. By moving away from the ability to prepare a range of food at home, enjoyment at restaurants has increased. Despite the economy’s dip the last few years, eating out has increased.

The need for educated kitchen help has been recognized throughout West Virginia with most counties participating in the Pro-Start program.   Developed by the West Virginia Department of Education and the National Restaurant Association, the high school program provides a start in a food service career with professional training in all aspects of operating and maintaining a food service business.

Joshua Hedrick graduated from Beckley’s Academy of Careers and Technology Pro-Start program and is now enrolled at the Mountwest Culinary Arts Program in Huntington. He enjoyed eating so much as a kid that he wanted to become a food critic when he grew up. But then he realized he had to take journalism classes and decided, instead, to really learn to cook.DSC_0007

John Strehle grew up in a large Greek family on the north side of Chicago where he decided at an early age that he wanted to become a fireman. The extended family gathered at his house for Thanksgiving and food always was equated with good times and love. After a stint working at the Chicago Board of Trade, his family then moved to Ashland, Kentucky. At 44 years of age his wife and his mother suggested he go back to school to do something he loved. He is now at Mountwest Culinary Arts Program to really learn how to cook.

Melissa Taylor moved a lot as a kid and always enjoyed cooking, but she really wanted to become a doctor. Organic chemistry was her undoing, however, and she landed in the accounting department at Marshall. She said she could do the work but she certainly was not passionate about it. When her job at Borders bookstore ended, she realized she needed a career that she could love and so she enrolled at Mountwest Culinary Arts Program to really learn how to cook.

These three students, all in their first year of the program, will be part of this year’s Mountwest Culinary Arts team at the Cast Iron Skillet Cook-off at The Greenbrier February 1st and 2nd. The team will also include four community members with a range of cooking experience, as well as Isabel Cross and Larry Perry from the Program.Isabel

Last year Isabel Cross took a team to the Cast Iron Skillet Cook-off at the Greenbrier and they won the Grand Championship. Their experience is explained in this blog published shortly after the event on WVFarm2u.Mountwest

This year they will return to the competition in the Throw-Down category where they will compete against two other teams which scored within 1.5 points of them last January.

The Mountwest Culinary Arts Program in Huntington is part of Mountwest Community and Technical College.  It had been part of Marshall University until a few years ago when the state legislature decided to separate two-year programs from the umbrella of the university.  The Culinary Arts Program moved into a new kitchen facility on 8th Avenue and also has some food service activity on the new campus located off 5th Street Road south of I-64.DSC_0008

The Challenge of Competing – Take Two

January 22, 2013

Preparing for a dinner party can raise anxiety levels in any cook and entering the prestigious Cast Iron Skillet Cook-Off to be held at The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs with a team of unknown help can result in more than a few sleepless nights. But James Beard nominee Scott Collinash believes he will dream better now. His team has had their sanctioned practice session and he knows this is definitely going to work.DSC_0030


Gathering at Berkeley Spring’s Panorama on the Peak, the team reviewed the menu and their assignments before heading into the kitchen.

The preparation that has kept Chef Scott and restaurant owners Patti Miller and Leslie Hotaling busy has included detailed assignments of each team member’s tasks, including assembling all the ingredients and equipment needed to complete one of the recipes.  DSC_0029The first step for team members was to review the lists and check all the items at their station.


The differences between trained commercial chefs and home cooks of various levels of skill became apparent immediately. As the cooking session ran its timed hour, it became obvious that the work station review had not been done adequately and during the course of the cooking there were frequent shouts for “bowl needed!” or “Where’s my butter?”. The chef had purposely omitted at least one item at each station that was on the list and the team members will be much more observant when setting up their prep areas at the competition following that exercise.

Restaurant kitchen space is notoriously small, but when you crowd ten people into a tiny room, each ends up with a work space of about two feet. Fitting all the food, equipment and the gas burner used for cooking in that space will make the four 8-foot tables assigned to them at the competition seem spacious.DSC_0065

The count-down clock started and activity revved up. The Chef manned the prep station but frequent calls for “Chef Check!” punctuated the hour and it became very obvious that the Pro-Start student assigned to the team will be welcomed eagerly at that station. As various other members of the team completed their tasks, they relieved the Chef at the prep station and Chef Scott’s time was then spent moving from station to station to verify quality of completion.DSC_0056DSC_0058DSC_0055DSC_0050DSC_0053

DSC_0102Despite the relative levels of skill of the team members and the tight quarters, all four dishes were prepared well within the mandated time period. After being plated and then carried out to the dining room as practice for presentation to the competition judges, the team tucked in and enjoyed the fruit of their labor.DSC_0169

DSC_0159Another sit down discussion followed to analyze issues that occurred and ways to improve technique.  And at least one more chorus of the restaurant’s acclaimed theme song was belted out with enthusiasm.DSC_0158

The Cast Iron Skillet Cook-Off takes place Saturday, February 2 and is open to be viewed by the public. Tasting of the prepared foods is restricted to the judges but you have the sublime opportunity to eat the entire meal this Friday, January 25 at the Panorama on the Peak. reservations are required and the meal is $50 per person with 30% being a donation to cover the costs incurred to participate in this prestigious competition.

Panorama on the Peak  3299 Cacapon Road (Route 9), Berkeley Springs, WV 304-258-0050

Just two hours from Washington, DC and two hours from Morgantown, WV.

Another James Beard Nominee here in West Virginia

January 18, 2013

Scott Collinash, the inventive chef at Panorama on the Peak in Berkeley Springs, has recently been nominated to the James Beard Foundation. They will begin a process of evaluation of his cooking and presentation.chef scott

Chef Scott was eager to work at Panorama on the Peak. The owners, Patti Miller and Leslie Hotaling, have a policy to use local foods extensively.  This means Scott has a challenge that results in a menu that changes weekly.nasty salad

His food is inventive, delicious and affordable!pecan crusted chicken

He will be leading a team to the Cast Iron Skillet Cook-Off at the Greenbrier February 1 and 2. logo

The Challenge of Competing-Take One

January 14, 2013


The first weekend in February will see hundreds of people gather at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs for the 8th annual Cast Iron Skillet Cook-off. Organized by the Collaborative for 21st Century Appalachia as a way to highlight Appalachian cuisine as a shining magnet for tourism, the Cook-Off is the premier event in the region’s cooking world.  Many of West Virginia’s top chefs have competed and this year will see some new faces, not only from the state but as the word has gotten out, the competition will include a class of competitors from other states in the Appalachian region as well.

Getting behind the scenes is fascinating in ways that watching a tv show like the Food Network’s Iron Chef can never  share. Last year I participated with my husband on Team Cimino.  Headed by father and son chefs Tim and Eli Urbanic of Cafe Cimino in Sutton, the team worked well to prepare its four courses and received the award “Best Representation of Appalachian Cuisine”.

This year my husband is participating on another team, Panorama on the Peak located in Berkeley Springs.  Between now and following the Cook-Off I will provide glimpses of the work they undertake to prepare and then their roles in the competition.logo

As a non-member I must be careful not to offer any suggestions, but truthfully, I am the novice cook here, so anything I might think to offer is kindergarten in comparison to the experience of the Chef.  Needless to say, I don’t need to say a thing as Chef Scott Collinash has it well under control. His menu is planned and he is preparing the required paperwork to the Collaborative, indicating the sources of all the ingredients as well as other things.

Restaurant owners Patti Miller and Leslie Hotaling are doing what they can to ease the Chef’s task. Leslie is on the competition cooking team and the chef is relying on her organizational skills now and then to keep everything running smoothly. Patti is helping source the ingredients and she also is watching the expenses.DSC_0007

The Panorama on the Peak does most of its business in the warmer months when tourism is high, so they typically are careful with their winter expenses. Making the decision to participate in the Cast Iron Skillet Cook-off is exciting, but also financially scary. For example, one member of their team, Leslie Baxter, is a culinary student who shadowed Chef Scott for longer than her required time when she was a high school student in the Pro-Start Program. The restaurant is covering her costs to participate.

In order to help the budget, the restaurant is holding a series of fund raisers in the hope that hometown and Eastern Panhandle pride will entice residents to come forward to not only cheer on the local team but provide some financial support. This weekend they held a special event where people could bring in old gold to get cash. Twenty percentage of the total sales was their share and immediately went into the pot to cover costs for the competition.

Coming up are two more fund raisers.  Click on Goat & Cello Tasting Town Flyer for the announcement.

2010_malebloomeryThe community will have a chance to meet two team members, Priscilla Ireys (known as the Crazy Goat Lady) and Rob Losey (lovingly referred to as the Cello Pimp) on Friday, January 18 from 6-8p.m.  Their ingredients will be offered in a special event with tickets set at $35.00 per person.   The menu includes Mixed Greens w/ Slow Roasted Goat shoulder, Goat Fajitas Slow Roasted Leg of Goat, Shredded then tossed with Peppers, Onions, and Mushrooms– Seasoned and served in Soft tortilla shells with sour cream, Goat Meatballs – Ground Goat blended with Mediterranean spices, and served with a feta dipping sauce; Lemon Pepper Chicken Bites w/ LimonCello – Chicken Breast coated with lemon pepper seasoning sautéed in butter then simmered in lemon cello; Baked Brie Bites – Brie wrapped in Puff Pastry with walnuts and baked until golden; and Chocolate Truffles.  

The second event, to be held January 25 from 6-8 p.m. will be a $50 four-course Prix Fixe offering of the Panorama on the Peak’s competition menu. If you want a sneak peak, this is the time! Chef Scott will be alone in the kitchen on this one; the team is only allowed one practice and that will be held another time. I know whoever attends that event will be most pleased!!

The Panorama on the Peak is located on  Route 9 at 3299 Cacapon Road in Berkeley Springs overlooking the beautiful Potomac River. Phone is 304-258-0050.

2012 in review

December 31, 2012

The (the blog site) stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

To put it in perspective:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 17,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 4 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

It has been a lot of fun writing this blog. I visited 35 farms and learned how the food we eat is produced. I went to 17 markets and saw how the locals manage getting that food to their neighbors. And I ate in 15 wonderful restaurants that serve as much local food as possible.

So the purpose of this blog is to reach out to people in West Virginia, to make them aware of all this wonderful food that is available. In addition, with information posted here they can improve their own life and health by making some changes to eat a bit healthier by avoiding chemicals and cooking more from scratch. Information has been given how growing some of your own food is possible even for people who live in cities and have no space. Other posts about living sustainably have also been published.

I have really enjoyed driving the back roads of West Virginia and getting to know the state. However, later this year we will be moving to Oregon and this blog will die unless a new blogger comes forward. I have found it a bit challenging to visit all over the state as I live in Huntington, so I would suggest that several bloggers are identified who live in various areas of the state. Each could post once a week, a lot easier task than what I tried (and failed) to sustain by posting daily. Visiting farms and markets, artisans and restaurants within an hour of their homes would be an easier concept than the 3-6 hour drives I have sometimes to visit the other corners of the state.

Blogging is a new kind of media and using photos as well as linking to Facebook pulls in higher readership than occasional newspaper articles. As more consumers (i.e. people who eat) read the blog, the sales of locally grown produce and meats will increase, helping the local economy as well.  Win-win-win.

Photo of the Day-Moving It Inside

December 8, 2012

high tunnele