What do you get when you add pineapples and Cheez-It crackers to an otherwise delicious gourmet dish?
If you’re one of the chefs who participated in a recent showdown to benefit Aneurysm Outreach Inc. and were required to incorporate those two seemingly incongruous ingredients into your recipes, you get some surprisingly marvelous results.
You wouldn’t think so. As one of the five judges at the event, which raised more than $27,000 for the nonprofit organization, I was a little skeptical myself.
But there was no need for taster trepidation. The six chefs - Nathan Gresham, of Beausoleil; Ludovic Gerrets, of The Chimes/Parrain’s; Kevin Grelle, of Sammy’s; William Wells, of Culinary Productions Catering & Event Planning; Lafayette’s Chris Erwin, of Cochon; and New Orleans’ Stacy Fortenberry - all came up with really tasty and impressive dishes.
The format for the event mirrored one of those celebrity chef competitions on The Food Network. The chefs had just one hour to prepare two dishes - one with chicken, one with shrimp - and to incorporate into those dishes the two mystery ingredients, pineapple and Cheez-Its, which were revealed to them just minutes before the clock started counting down.
We judges sat on stage at The Varsity, where the event was held, and were presented with the dishes two at a time. Then, we rated them and commented on them to Jenny Heroman, who played celebrity emcee.
It was great fun for a good cause. It was also delightful to see such creativity.
Chefs worked the pineapple into salsas or fresh toppings, and managed to turn the Cheez-Its into Parmesan cheese-like toppings or crunchy breading for fried shrimp, squash patties and, in one instance, pineapple rings.
Given the time constraints and the considerable heat in the makeshift outdoor kitchen where they were working, their efforts were admirable and much appreciated by the event’s organizers.
“This is something I’ve wanted to bring to Baton Rouge for years and I was trying to find the right nonprofit for it and AOI, being so near and dear to my heart, felt like the perfect fit,” said event organizer and professional event planner Heather Sewell Day, whose father, Tony Sewell, died of an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
AOI is a 12-year-old, locally based organization that helps save lives by providing free abdominal aortic aneurysm ultrasound screen programs for at-risk people in Louisiana.
For the past several years, the organization has hosted a fundraiser. But the chef’s showdown took it to a whole new level.
Local chefs should be congratulated for participating and giving of their time and considerable talent to benefit this worthy cause.
Kudos, too, to Beausoleil executive chef Gresham. He received top honors from the judges for his Chicken Confit Over Dirty Rice With Sweet Pepper Vermouth Sauce and his New Orleans-Style Pineapple Barbecue Shrimp, both of which incorporated the pineapple and Cheese-Its seamlessly with the other ingredients.
For more information on Aneurysm Outreach, go to http://www.alink.org. The next free screening is Sept. 24 at the Regional Medical Center of Acadiana in Lafayette.