In a stunning culinary upset, Chef Andy Hunter from The Acorn snatched the Iron Fork away from its defending champion, tayst's Jeremy Barlow, in a nailbiter of a competition last night that will no doubt inspire folk songs, cave etchings and more than a few Lifetime Movies of the Week.
First, let it be said that all five chefs brought their A game to the culinary coliseum housed within the Country Music Hall of Fame. The unveiling of the secret ingredient — the Stokes purple sweet potato! — brought a gasp of alarm from the crowd. Most of us know only a couple of ways to prepare sweet potatoes anyway, and fewer than that if we don't have a stick of butter and a box of brown sugar handy.
But that's why these guys are Iron Fork material — not a limp spork in the bunch. From Eastland Cafe, Chef Hal Holden-Bache dazzled the crowd with fluffy little pillows of purple sweet-potato gnocchi. Sunset Grill's Chris Cunningham incorporated the tuber du jour into a corn cake that had onlookers salivating. Representing 55 South, Chef Jason McConnell rocked a purple sweet-potato trio capped by a kale-wrapped sweet-potato tamale.
As for reigning champ Barlow, looking very much the samurai kitchen bad-ass in his headband, he seemed to have delivered a knockout blow with his stunning presentation of a Napoleon constructed of deep-fried purple sweet-potato disks and spicy goat cheese. But it was not to be.
Under the guidance of Chef Hunter, Team Acorn whisked one snazzy dish after another before the judges. The winning menu consisted of julienned purple sweet potato and spinach with a balsamic vinaigrette, feta and cold poached shrimp; a Barney-colored purple sweet-potato soup beribboned with strips of pralined bacon; and individual Le Creuset mini-crocks housing molasses-seared duck breast over purple risotto with creamed kale.
When the judgment came, Hunter exclaimed something which will be stricken from all audio tracks, should the footage ever be aired. But he accepted the Iron Fork with gratitude, even if he seemed a little perturbed that the presenter was trying to take the chef's beer out of his hands so he could hold it.
Once again, Whole Foods delivered a staggering smorgasbord of top-quality ingredients. We must make special mention of Bill Cobb, the gentleman responsible for the night's secret ingredient, who charmed the entire room with his good nature and enthusiasm. Truth be told, it was the most fun Iron Fork yet, with ample food and drink, shorter lines, hilarious running commentary by Carrington and guest pundits Nicki P. Wood and Chris Chamberlain, and a wonderful crowd that stayed excited and lively until the Fork came down.
See you in 2011 — perhaps with a protein as secret ingredient?