AP NEWS

Collards, cereal on the plate when Cooking for a Classic crowns a champion

March 12, 2019
Mushroom collard greens bao with homemade Ponzu sauce

Andrew Smith, chef of bu*ku in Wake Forest, drove away a champion Monday night in the finale of the 2019 edition of Cooking for a Classic. The competition dining event matched eight chefs in three rounds with diner tickets benefiting the Lucy Daniels Center.

Monday’s final had some added excitement as diners bid on exclusive foodie experiences, including a Captain’s Table at the Angus Barn and house parties from TOPO Distillery and Social House. A professional auctioneer got the crowd engaged between courses of the meal, drumming up tens of thousands of dollars in donations.

The competition started like any other, with the introduction of the “secret ingredients” that the chef teams had worked with throughout the day.

For the final, Smith’s team faced off against Teddy Diggs and a team from the soon-to-open Coronato Pizza. They had mere hours to design and prepare three courses apiece for 200 diners based on the ingredients of collard greens, mahi mahi, breakfast cereal and Ms. Ruth’s jams.

Smith’s team served first a mushroom and collard green stuffed bao with homemade Ponzu sauce. The judges praised the work of crafting hundreds of individual dough pockets. “Someone must be feeling the carpal tunnel about now,” one joked.

A judge described the second appetizer, Diggs’ “Luck and Money,” as “a big boy breakfast designed for Gourmet magazine.” The team creamed black beans into hummus, then topped it with collards and a poached egg for a creamy, tasty mix.

At my table, the dish came out cold, a challenge to one diner who said the cold, runny egg was a turnoff.

Between the appetizers and entrees came the live auction, which featured five exclusive experiences and raised about $20,000 within minutes.

Only Smith chose to integrate the breakfast cereal into his entree, a Froot Loop-crusted mahi mahi, and he earned points from the judges, who said “that took guts.”

Another felt the pull of childhood, saying, “I wish my mom would have used Froot Loops to make me eat fish.”

The Froot Loops, mixed with almonds and bread crumbs in the crust, added just a touch of crunch to a perfectly prepared mahi mahi. The collard greens accompaniment with an orange jam glaze added the vinegary balance that reminded some diners of a barbecue dinner.

The second entree featured the requisite vocabulary lesson. At each dining competition, I learn a new foodie word. This one was agrodolce, with Google tells me is a sweet and sour sauce used in Chinese cuisine. Diggs spread it on thick under roasted mahi mahi and cauliflower, and the diners at my table swiped it all up.

Before dessert, the auctioneer returned, this time pitting diners against each other for the simple pleasure of donating to the Lucy Daniels Center. As he challenged one after another to be the “Last Hero” who would give $100, several diners raised their paddles again and again, reveling in jumping in at the last second. When the auction ended, I tallied another $16,800 volunteered for Lucy Daniels Center programs.

Both chef teams went all in on the cereal ingredients for dessert.

First came Smith’s chocolate terrine, with a Cocoa Puff brownie topped with Fruit Loop ice cream.

It was rich and dense, crispy and chewy.

“I’m a texture guy,” one judge said in praising this dessert.

Diggs’ dessert name checked four breakfast cereals. His team prepared a Lucky Charms marshmallow alongside Fruit Loop mousse, Cocoa Puff gelato and a Cinnamon Toast Crunch crisp horn.

“It was a beautiful presentation, and complex. This could go on a menu in a restaurant,” a judge said.

Once diners’ votes were tallied, it was Smith and his team who captured the title and claimed the keys to the “classic” – a restored red Jeep Scrambler.