Monday, November 17, 2014

The 2014 World Food Championships, Las Vegas ~ The Saturday Chili, BBQ and Freestyle Events!

     A Newfound Public Interest In Culinary Arts That Really Always Existed
     Public interest in culinary arts and food competitions has never been higher.  Ever since food television networks entered the mass media arena, the number of viewers that have taken interest in food topic TV programming has grown exponentially.
     More consumers are now trying new cooking ideas that they learned while watching cooking shows.  The dining public is influenced by cuisine trends that are publicized by the TV food media.  Far more high school graduates develop interest in pursuing a culinary arts education, because they are inspired by what they see on TV food networks.  Overall, the American television viewing public is now knows more about food and culinary arts than ever before.

     For way too many years culinary arts were neglected by the American media.  In many countries around the globe, culinary entertainment has always been a prime time media tradition that draws plenty of interest.
     Why it took so long for food topic programming to become prime time broadcasting material in America can only be attributed to TV executives understating the real interests of the viewing audience.  At some point, TV programmers decided that guns and violence were more important to air than the arts.  It is easy to see that this decision was short sighted, because of the number of viewers that watch TV food programs in recent years seems to be greater than those who watch the same old cops & robbers theme shows.
     Years ago, there were only token daytime cooking shows that aired during soap opera time slot hours, so the targeted audience was housewives or retirees that sought easy recipes to make.  Other than on public sponsored television, very little focus was placed upon restaurants, professional chefs or innovative cuisine trends.  Apparently by not accurately reading the interests of the viewing audience, the old school TV networks failed to fully capitalize on the potential of prime time TV food show programming.

     Nowadays, food topic TV programming is 24/7 and the peak viewing time window occurs during prime time hours.  This is the complete opposite of how things used to be.  Describing a highly publicized new food competition, like the World Food Championships, as simply "riding the tide of the general public's newfound interest in culinary arts" is really not an accurate statement of the times.  Americans have always been interested in anything that has to do with food, but the general public's interests were ignored by the media.  The new wave of major competitive culinary events and the televised prime time coverage, simply fills a void that has existed for many decades.        

     The 2014 World Food Championships
     The World Food Championships definitely helps to fill the prime time food topic programming void that existed for many years.  Americans like prime time food topic shows, especially when cooking competitions are in the spotlight.  As far as popular cooking competitions go, the World Food Championships takes the cake!

     The World Food Championships is a highly publicized competitive event that takes place each year in Las Vegas.  Last year, the WFC moved from the Bally's and Caesar's Palace locations on the Las Vegas Strip to downtown Fremont Street.  It seems like the Fremont Street Experience organization and the downtown casinos are all pleased with the high number of spectators that the World Food Championships draw, so it it looks like downtown Las Vegas will more than likely host this competitive event in the future.
     I have photographed the WFC three years in a row and have written articles about this event that were published in this website.  The WFC has evolved from the inaugural 2012 event, that many describe as being roughshod, to becoming a very well organized event that maintains a high level of professionalism.

     There was a big organizational improvement between the 2012 WFC and the 2013 WFC events.  The competitors that I spoke with really liked the changes.  Many of the pro competitors liked how the playing field was evened out, so favoritism or predetermined bias was eliminated.  Everybody had a fair chance to win top prize money in every category during the 2013 WFC.  There were no comments heard about how the contest was rigged.
     Many competitors that participated in the 2012 WFC mentioned that the winning contestant selection process was suspect, because an employee of the casino corporation that hosted the event actually won the top prize money.  Honestly, when something like that occurs, the losers do have good reason to complain.
     After the WFC event moved to the downtown location, things were obviously fair and square.  Every competitor was smiling and I have heard no more suspicious comments at all.  The same can be said about this year's WFC event.  Even the sore losers had no conspiracies to voice an opinion upon.

     I attended the major events that took place on Saturday afternoon at the World Food Championships.  I really focused on the Chili Cook Off event and the BBQ Competition, because these cuisine styles are my cup of tea.
     Interacting with BBQ and Chili Contest competitors is always a blast, because these folks really know how to have a fun time.  Part of the successful BBQ and Chili marketing equation is shock value.  The advertisements, banners, competition team attire and lingo spoken is all meant to draw attention to the BBQ and Chili.  The wilder and crazier, the better!
    I spoke with one Chili Cook Off Competitor after another at the WFC.  I also sampled nearly every chili that they cooked.  I happen to be a chili eatin' freak, so even after tasting over a dozen small bowls of chili, I was ready for more.  Every chili was unique in its own way and every chili had a good flavor.

     The chili competitors definitely had what it takes to compete in a world class event.  Even better, the competitors really were having a great time in doing so.  One word of caution for those who have never talked about chili with a chili cooking pro.  One you get a chili competitor talking, you may end up having to stand there and listen for quite a spell.  These folks will talk about chili to no end!

     After being all ears between getting a few chances to mention my cooking credentials to the chili cooking folks, I was almost happy to see that the WFC BBQ competition teams were right in the middle of plating food for judging.  The BBQ cooks were busy and they were being a bit on the secretive side.  Not bothering the BBQ competitors with questions was the right thing to do.  Observing and taking photos caused less interference.

     The smell of choice hardwood charcoal smoke and good BBQ was thick in the air.  Even after tasting a bunch of chili, that aroma caused my tummy to growl.  Unfortunately, spectators have to wait for the pro competition to be finished, before free tasting samples are unleashed.  Competitors that were competing for popular choice awards, were allowed to dish up samples of alternative offerings as they pleased.  Everybody likes to taste good chili and BBQ, so it helps to know when the tasting officially commences.

     After listening to a few BBQ competitors describe their food creations to judges on stage, I realized that being able to lay the bullshit down in a lengthy thick manner was still part of the BBQ contest game.  One simply has to invent brand new descriptive words that are at least ten letters long, while saying amazing things about the plate of BBQ, in order to captivate the judges in a BBQ competition.  Those who can rattle off some extreme BBQ lingo jive talkin' do have an advantage when being judged at a food competition event.

     At about the time that I was ready to head for home, the Freestyle Food Competition was just starting to make headway.  Many of these folks were serious about their food and they barely interacted with spectators.  All eyes were on the top prize money, so the focus was on their own competitive cooking.
     Most of the competitors had amateur or semi professional status, so this made the event interesting to watch.  When the time keeper started the minute by minute countdown to the deadline, the pressure quickly reached the boiling point.  Seeing how competitors react when time is running out, always is an entertaining sight to see.  Some panic, some have a minor nervous break down and some really keep it together.  Keeping one's own composure is important in a freestyle cooking event.

     All in all, the Saturday afternoon World Food Championship events were well worth attending.  There was plenty of good food, plenty of fun people and plenty of good conversation.  I met plenty of new faces and exchanged contact information.  Everybody smiled for the camera and every competitor was having a great time.  Spectators were drawn to the events in great numbers and it was easy to see why the World Food Championships are good wholesome prime time entertainment.

     Those who plan a trip to Vegas in November of next year should keep the WFC event in mind.  The WFC events run for an entire week.  The field is narrowed down to top competitors in each category toward the weekend.  The final table event is comprised of winners in each category and this takes place at the end of the schedule.  Many of the competitions require no admission fee, but tickets must be purchased for featured events, like the final table competition for the big jackpot cash prize.
     For more information about the 2014 World Food Championships and next year's event schedule, follow this link.    
     • World Food Championships

     Vendor & Sponsor Mentions
     A list of vendor links follows the vendor descriptions!
      I did get a chance to talk to a Tahoe Kitchen Company cutlery vendor that I met at last year's WFC event.  Viewers who prefer top notch quality kitchen knives and fancy dining room service steak knives will be interested in Hammer Stahl has to offer.  The Tahoe Kitchen Company also offers a high quality line of gourmet olive oil products.
     I also spoke with representatives of the Operation BBQ Relief Charity.  This charity accepts donations for stockpiling food for disaster relief.  When a major disaster occurs, like a tornado, hurricane or earthquake, this charitable organization mobilizes a temporary BBQ kitchen on site and they feed displaced disaster victims.  This is a noteworthy charity that provides direct relief with minimal bureaucracy involved.
     Potato Goodness Unearthed sponsors the Top Tater program.  Top Tater is a unique event that offers prize money for pictures of potato creations and potato recipes.  Anybody can enter to win weekly prize money.
     Those who are interested in seeing what a chili contest competitor's website is like, the Central Texas Tolbert Chili Group is a good example.  This organization offers good Texas Chili information.
     • Tahoe Kitchen Company
     • Operation BBQ Relief
     • Potato Goodness Unearthed - Top Tater
     • Central Texas Tolbert Chili Group   

     Many more vendor, restaurant, catering and competitor website addresses can be seen in the slide show photos.  I always try to capture images of links while at food competition events, in case viewers see a food product or kitchen item that catches the eye!      

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Petite Sandwich Platter ... Amish Country Limburger Cheese & Onion ~ Liverwurst on Melba Toast with Cilantro Roasted Red Pepper Spread and Neon Relish

     Heavy Rich Food Moderation 
     Usually when I publish a bread recipe, it is for a reason.  I made Desert Wildflower Honey White Wheat Bread a few days ago, just to feature a couple of interesting traditional sandwich items.
     In this modern age of fast living, it is easy to overlook certain kinds of food, then that food disappears and it becomes a forgotten relic of the past.  This is especially true when health cuisine propaganda enters the picture.
     Just like chickens with their heads cut off, some people jump on any cuisine trend bandwagon that comes along, then they vilify old traditional food items.  Is it okay to eat rich traditional food?  Yes it is, as long as moderation and balance is applied.

     Those who lead less active lifestyles have to pay more attention to their diet and restraint becomes necessary.  Those who work their butt off doing tough physical sweaty jobs can basically eat anything with no ill consequences.
     A person that works out at a gym for one hour per day is more active than a desk jockey, but in no way is as active as a construction worker or a high volume pro cook that is on their feet for 8 to 14 hours everyday.  Folks that work tough physical jobs can usually dance circles around those who only get physical at a gym for an hour every few days per week.  That is just a fact of life.

     When I do sous chef work, I am on my feet 14 hours a day.  Bags of grain weigh 50 pounds.  A case of #10 tomatoes weighs over 25 pounds.  A thirty gallon pot full of stock can weigh over 100 pounds.  All liquids are in 5 gallon containers.  Constantly picking up weights like this on the job, all day long, really builds strength.  I can actually pick up a 50 pound bag of flour with one finger and hold my arm  straight out at arm's length.  This is not bulk muscle strength.  It is called tensile strength.  Tensile strength basically develops as a result of hard physical endurance and not by pumping weights.

     When I worked at a steel mill doing quality control work.  I worked with guys that picked up big pieces of steel, as if it weighed as much as a twig.  The more that I worked with steel and carted steel samples around, the more I got used to the heavy weight.  It is like mind over matter.  After a while, a 5 gallon bucket full of steel scrap samples feels as heavy as a cup of water.  The mind overcomes the thought of the extreme weight and the body follows suit.

     One thing that I noticed about steel workers is that they tend to eat big hearty heavy food.  Stinky food too!  Liverwurst, scrapple, liver & onions, big steaks, tons of bacon and summer sausage were common sights in steelworker lunch boxes.
     One guy at the still mill job liked soft Limburger cheese spread on every sandwich.  Coworkers use to laugh about the odor of dead worn out socks emanating from his lunchbox.
     Fat, protein and carbs really get a worker through a long day of doing hard work in ice cold Lake Michigan steel mill site winter temperatures.  Old traditional heavy duty food is popular with folks who do heavy duty big jobs.  Do these folks keel over at age 40?  No!  They live well beyond retirement age, because their body efficiently digests the heavy rich food, due to extreme physical exertion.
     A desk jockey cannot eat the same food that a steel worker eats without ending up with cardiovascular problems.  This is why a health food nutcase cannot make demands for others to follow.  There really is no one size fits all rule, when assessing how healthy a specific food item is.  It is all relative to the lifestyle of the person that consumes that food item.  Light fat free food is good for some people, but not all.  The same goes for heavy rich traditional food.  For those in between, moderation is the key to good health.

     Liverwurst is a traditional favorite in Eastern Europe, Germany, Scandinavia and all over America.  Liverwurst is usually made with a mixture of pig liver, beef liver and ground veal.  Liverwurst can be soft and spreadable or it can be firm.  In America, Liverwurst is sometimes called "Hillbilly Pâté, Redneck Pâté or Kentucky Pâté."  Basically, chefs joke about liverwurst as being a poor folks version of French Pâté and this is okay.

     When the hand passed hors d'oeuvres start to run out at an event like a 1,200 head New Years Eve Party at a yacht club, the chef tells the Garde Manger Chef to break out the "Cat & Dog Food!"  What this means is that the regular appetizer food is running out and it is time to open up some cans of Goose Liver Pâté, Chicken Liver Spread, Sardines, Deviled Ham Spread and cut open some packaged Liverwurst.  These items are quickly used to make more canapés and hors d'oeuvres for the guests at the party.
     Us cooks had to resort to whipping up "Cat & Dog Food Hors D'Oeuvres!" a few times back when I worked as a saucier at a yacht club for two years.  After rushing the emergency last resort appetizers out to the dining room, the guests naturally dug right in.
     The chef and us cooks used stand by the dining room service doors and watch the guests reaction to hors d'oeuvres that were just served.  Then the chef always made a comment that went something like, "Them rich folks sure do go for that fancy Cat & Dog Food!  Don't they?"  All we could do was laugh and agree!

     Liverwurst has been the saving grace pâté at many cocktail party events over the years.  Liverwurst does taste good and it is very rich.  In Europe, liverwurst is usually served as an open face sandwich.  Liverwurst sandwiches are usually garnished with zesty spreads, zesty mustard, onion, pickles or relish.
     I honestly like snacking on petite open face liverwurst sandwiches, so I made some the other day while doing a long 10 hour college research paper writing session.  Rye bread is the first choice for liverwurst, but Desert Wildflower Honey White Wheat Bread tastes good with Hillbilly Pâté too.

     Amish Country Spreadable Limburger Cheese
     Limburger Cheese is the stinky stuff!  Amish Country Limburger Cheese is actually a mixture of White Cheddar Cheese and Soft ripe Limburger.  In other words, the flavor is diluted and this is for a good reason.  Limburger has lost plenty of appeal in the last 50 years and this classic cheese has nearly disappeared from the market altogether.
     There is only one Swiss master cheesemaker left in America who makes Limburger Cheese.  The flavor of Amish Country Limburger is toned down in order to increase the marketing appeal.  Regular full strength Limburger is also available from this cheesemaker in Wisconsin.

     Limburger Cheese is still popular in the Netherlands, most of Northern Europe, Eastern Europe, Canada and Northern States in America.  Oddly enough, while working in yacht clubs, Limburger Cheese was requested by several of the old school big money high rollers.

     The Limburger & Onion Sandwich is the all time classic way to serve this cheese.  Zesty mustard, like Russian Mustard, is usually served on the side.  Limburger & Onion Sandwiches are popular in German American neighborhood taverns, especially in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Illinois.  Rye Bread is first choice, but a sweet wheat bread tastes good with Limburger too.

     Limburger is made with pasteurized got milk cheese that is bathed in Brevibacterium Linens Bacteria.  This is the same bacteria that causes body odor.  The cheese is crumbly and mild tasting when fresh, but as Limburgers ages, it becomes softer.  Extra aged Limburgers is actually runny.  The strong aroma of Limburger also increases with age.

     Amish Country Old Fashioned Spreadable Limburger Cheese is very nice tasting.  Hints of nuts and natural sweetness combine with rich sharp flavors.  This mild Limburger is modestly aromatic.  Highly recommended for readers who are fans of fine gourmet cheese!

     For more information about Amish Country Spreadable Limburger Cheese and Traditional Limburger, follow these links:
     • Chalet Cheese Co-op (Facebook)
     • Wisconsin Specialty Cheese Institute - Myron Olson, Chalet Cheese Cooperative
     • WBEZ 91.5 - Louisa Chu - Limburger: This cheese stands alone, but perhaps not for long

     Beer Pairing
     For both liverwurst and Limburger Cheese, an aged Lager or Bock Beer is best.  For some reason, very few American craft breweries make great lagers.  This is because a great lager is aged in wood casks before bottling.  Far too many craft breweries take production shortcuts, just to pump out as much beer as possible.  Profiteering by shortchanging quality is never a path that a good brewer follows.  Many customers may not notice the difference, but some of us do.
     A good aged lager has to be well balanced, especially when the aging process does its thing.  Depending on how long a lager is aged, it can have light flavor, a rich aged flavor or it can be pleasantly dank, heavy and malty sweet.  Lager is a beer art in itself.

     One of the few great craft lagers that I have found is made by the Brooklyn Brewery.  Brooklyn, New York, has a long history of great beer production that nearly faded out of existence in the last few decades.  The Brooklyn Brewery has revived the Brooklyn beer brewing tradition in a big way.
     Brooklyn Brewery Beer is masterfully crafted along traditional lines.  The east coast is steeped in tradition, just like Europe.  The latest and greatest fads never last.  Only trie and true tradition lives on.  This means that beer like extra strong hoppy western craft brews do not really cut the mustard, as far as east consumer tastes are concerned.  A beer has to have balance and authenticity if it is going to be well liked by east coast folks.  The Brooklyn Brewery is capitalizing on this well founded beer brewing philosophy.

     Brooklyn Brewery beer products were recently introduced in Las Vegas.  This beer is available in bottles or cans.  As long as beer cans are not exposed to heat, the flavor is as good as bottled beer, so I have no qualms about canned craft beer.

     Brooklyn Brewery Lager is as good as lager beer gets.  This lager has an agreeable moderately aged rich flavor, the malt balance is perfect and the hops flavor is traditional.  This lager is simply one of the best!  Brooklyn Lager is a lager drinker's first choice.  Highly recommended!
     For more information about the brewery, follow this link:
     • Brooklyn Brewery
     Desert Wildflower Honey White Wheat Bread:
     About 16 thin slices of petite bread loaf will be needed for todays recipe.
     Follow this link to the bread recipe in this website:
     • Desert Wildflower Honey White Wheat Bread

     Melba Toast:
     Melba toast is like Rusk.  The toast is dry and crisp.  Any king of bread that is not too dense can be used to make Melba Toast.  Thin sandwich sliced bread or very thin slices of petite bread loaf can be used.  For hors d'oeuvres or canapés, very thin sliced petite bread loaves are best.  The bread slices are baked in a 300ºF oven till they are lightly toasted, completely dry and crisp.  About 10 slices of Melba Toast will be needed for today's recipe

     Cilantro Roasted Pepper Spread:
     This recipe yields about 3/4 cup! 
     Place 1/2 cup of mayonnaise in a food processor.
     Add 2 teaspoons of dijon mustard.
     Add 1/4 cup of chopped roasted red bell pepper.
     Add 2 tablespoons of minced cilantro.
     Add 1 pinch of white pepper.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of lemon juice.
     Pulse the food processor, till the mixture is pureed.
     Place the spread in a container.
     Chill until the spread becomes a medium thick consistency.

     Petite Amish Country Limburger Cheese & Onion Sandwiches:
     Cut 16 thin slices from a petite loaf of Desert Wildflower Honey White Wheat Bread.
     Spread a thin layer of Amish Country Limburger Cheese on each slice of bread.
     Place thin sliced yellow onion or sweet onion on 8 of the slices.
     Assemble the petite sandwiches.  

     Liverwurst on Melba Toast with Cilantro Roasted Red Pepper Spread and Neon Relish:
     Place a thin layer of the Cilantro Roasted Pepper on 8 slices of Desert Wildflower Honey White Wheat Bread Melba Toast.
     Place a thin half moon shaped lice of liverwurst on each Melba Toast.
     Place a small dab of Chicago Style Neon Relish on each slice of liverwurst.

     Platter Presentation: 
     Overlap the  Petite Amish Country Limburger Cheese & Onion Sandwiches across the center of a serving platter.
     Place a row of the Liverwurst on Melba Toast with Cilantro Roasted Red Pepper Spread and Neon Relish on both sides of the petite sandwiches.
     Garnish the plate with cilantro sprigs.
     Serve with German Mustard or Russian Mustard on the side.

    Viola!  Petite sandwiches and melba toast canapés that feature classic rich flavors!