Last Wednesday night, the 3 finalists of the CTbites/Marcia Selden Ultimate Dinner Party contest met for a "CHOPPED"-style cook-off at the GORGEOUS Marcia Selden headquarters in Stamford. Marcia and daughter/partner Robin along with celebrity chef and "Sweet Genius" host Ron Ben-Israel were the judges and...Oh, what a night!
The three lucky finalists were Lisa Eppley of Darien, Krystle Ang of Stamford and Hannah Bukzin of Westport, aged 13...no, really! They came, they saw (by way of a thorough tour of the facility by Jeff Selden, son/partner of Marcia and the ever-fabulous Chef Nicole Straight) and they made their way to the kitchen with high hopes of conquering that grand prize - a Gourmet to Go meal delivered to the winner's home, some cool Marcia Selden swag and, most importantly, the honor of the win!
So the timer was set for one hour, the contestants were told the rules - open the baskets to find the three mystery ingredients, make any dish you like as long as all three ingredients are present and have the dish presentable for the judges in exactly one hour - and the challenge began. And for the mystery ingredients? Drum roll please!!!
Ritz Crackers - Chick Peas - Strawberry Pop Rocks Candy
Lisa, one of 8 siblings and a mom of 5 herself, loves to cook and prefers all family functions to happen at her house. She is a family-style chef used to preparing meals in any time frame in order to keep up with all her kids! Here's what she prepared :
*Ritz-crusted, pan seared chicken breast w/ a balsamic/raspberry and pop rocks glaze, served on a bed of field greens.
*Bruschetta with a puree of chick peas topped with pop rocks.
Kristle, who said she mainly cooks for herself and her husband, really prefers to go out to eat. Her favorite cuisine is Asian and she goes into NYC whenever she can where she thinks the restaurants are amazing. Here's what she prepared:
*Hangar Steak, marinated in brandy and truffle oil, then pan-seared in butter.
*Oven roasted chick peas with salt, pepper and cumin.
*Ritz Cracker Crositinis with Greek yogurt and smoked salmon topped with a drizzle of truffle oil and a few shards of saffron.
Hanna, (again - 13!!!!!) likes to put a modern spin on the classic dishes she prepares. Though she is aspiring to be a neurosurgeon one day (!), she loves to cook and even has her own food blog, smallchefbigworld.blogspot.com. Did I mention that she is 13 ?!?!?!
Hannah prepared :
*Pan-seared salmon steaks with a Ritz Cracker and crushed Pop Rocks crust.
*Chick Pea and mixed vegetable medley.
*A toasted pita triangle.
*An arugula salad with lemon vinaigrette to top it off.
So the clock ticked away and while those of us in the audience snacked on Marcia Selden delights and sipped home-brewed iced tea, the three challengers nervously, yet incredibly skillfully went about their culinary ways, slicing, dicing, mixing and churning (and just a little bit of burning), roasting and searing and baking and yes, a little bit of shaking. With skill and aplomb, each challenger prepared restaurant-worthy dishes for the judges to sample.
One thing I simply must mention is that the spectators and judges watched in awe as Hannah, yep - 13, diced her garlic like a seasoned sushi chef -with incredible speed and confidence and then turned to one of the Selden staff to ask how to use the can opener. With all that expertise and skill, still a young girl. Sweet.
And finally, after plenty of witty advice from the marvelous Ron Ben-Israel and the great people at Marcia Selden, the clock ticked past 59:59 and the contestants were asked to present.
Hannah drew the longest bread stick and presented first. Kristle was second and last but not least, Lisa. The judges thoroughly enjoyed each dish yet had helpful and entertaining criticism for each. One did not transform the ingredients enough, one should have heated the pan before searing to keep the crust on the meat, one made the portions too big. Yet all in all, the judges and those of us in the audience were astounded at the final products. The judges deliberated for a few minutes and then gave their decision....
Who would take the prize?
And the winner, by a very small margin.......
Lucky #13!!! Hannah Bukzin took the prize!!
Congratulation to all the contestants and an enormous thank you to Nicole Straight, all the people at Marcia Selden and to the spectacular Ron Ben-Israel for making this such an exciting and fun event for all concerned!