Published: Jun 26, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Jun 26, 2012 05:48 PM
CHAPEL HILL - Crackling bacon, aromatic basil and mounds of fresh chopped vegetables made some shoppers linger a little longer Saturday at the Chapel Hill Farmer’s Market.
David Hinkle – a stay-at-home dad and landscaper – won the Fresh Chef Competition with his zucchini pancakes and farmer’s salad dressed in orange-balsamic vinaigrette with deviled pecan pesto duck eggs.
“The orange dressing was fantastic, and it was a great use of all the products,” said A Southern Season chef and judge Sharon Mahofski. Other judges were first-year winner Jennie Heck and mall marketing director Jeanette Gulledge.
It was a tough decision, they said. Hinkle won by two points; one point separated the others.
“We really had to make a distinction. I’m not sure we had a clear first place,” Heck said.
Farmer’s market manager Lindsay Smith said the contest showcases locally grown fruits and vegetables. The market runs every Tuesday and Saturday in the University Mall parking lot behind A Southern Season.
The contestants had $20 and 30 minutes to buy ingredients, and one hour to cook and plate their dishes. Plates were judged on variety, originality, taste and presentation.
Runner-up Claudia Sanders, a frequent market customer, practiced her dish the night before and spent about 15 minutes shopping. Local farmers are great, because they get to know their customers, directing them to regular favorites or unique items they might want to try, she said.
The competitors fired up their single-burner propane stoves when the bell rang.
Mike Bennett’s flank steak and onions sizzled in the pan, as he chopped vegetables and made quick-pickled coleslaw. Beside him, Hinkle sat on a cooler, prepping produce and hard-boiling duck eggs in a pot of water.
Sanders and Sarah Bergmann faced down problematic stoves to roll out, respectively, a Fresh Market Frittata with “popped” corn, tomatoes and basil tzatziki on a bed of pea shoots, and fragrant green Thai curry chicken with peach chutney.
“I forgot the major rule of (the televised cooking competition) ‘Iron Chef’,” Sanders told the judges. “I didn’t taste the end product.”
Five cooks were chosen from 16 applicants, but one had a last-minute emergency and missed the contest, Smith said. They could bring five flavor boosters with them and were given water, a table and a plastic tub.
Smith said the contest has changed a little over the years. The first contestants used the same surprise protein in their dishes, while last year, they had several options.
LeAnne Silver won last year with her patty pan squash pancakes.
This year, contestants could use duck or chicken eggs, flank steak, chicken tenders and hot or sweet Italian sausage – or they could make a vegetarian dish.
Hinkle, an “adventurous” cook with three young children – Annabel, Katie and Calvin – was vegetarian for 10 years before marrying his wife Christina and starting a family. Much of his knowledge was learned years ago working at Chapel Hill’s former Wellspring grocery (now Whole Foods Market), he said.
When asked how victory felt, Hinkle grinned and yelled, “Woooo!”
He took home a Fyrkat indoor charcoal grill from A Southern Season and dinner for two at Lantern restaurant. He also will be asked to judge next year’s competition.
Other prizes were a basket of market goods, $100 gift certificate to Il Palio, two VIP passes to the University Mall Summer Concert Series and a $25 Vimala’s Curry Blossom gift certificate.