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ON THE SCENE: Chefs compete in annual Food and Wine festival

April 19, 2011
The Mirror Lake Inn’s sixth annual Adirondack Festival of Food and Wine was, in the estimation of many who have attended a number of previous events, the best yet.

“There is no better place than the Mirror lake Inn,” said John Bivona, who was attending his third festival. It is the standard by which I judge everything else. The ambience, the food, the service, the staff — they are the finest I have encountered anywhere. I don’t think that there is any place in New York State that compares to this place. My wife and I come to the Festival because the food is outstanding. We are foodies. We like food and we like wine. While you are at the Festival you get to mingle with terrific chefs, see how they prepare many different dishes, get recipes to take home, and learn about what wines goes with what foods. It’s a wonderful place to meet old and new friends over great food and drink. What could be better?”

The Festival opened Thursday evening with an array of champagnes, sparkling wines casual Hors D’oeuvre to taste, and some fun interactive activities that set the stage for the array of experiences to come.

They began while Bridget Hinman, head of marketing for the Whiteface Ski Center, was pressing me to taste a Sparkling Shiraz, Shingleback “Black Bubbles” from Australia. She said, “This is really good Naj, I think it is going to be my drink of the summer.”

Good indeed. I was enjoying the taste when Damon Ross-Walker, the Sales Manager for Moet Hennesey, captured everyone’s attention when he whipped out a saber with one hand, held up a champagne bottle with the other and, the style perfected by Napoleon’s cavalry officer’s upon departing the chalet of Madame Veuve Clicquot, a widow who was an early pioneer in the making of champagne, whacked off the top of the bottle letting lose of torrent of the elixir that Bivona was quick to capture with an outstretched glass. “I encourage you to all try this at home. Who would like learn and demonstrate how it is done?” he said.

Like a shot Renee’ DeMars volunteered, aligned the seam of the very chilled wine upward and with a determined stroke sent the top and cork flying. “I can’t believe I did that,” she said. “It was so awesome. Did you see how clean it was? Where’s the top? I want to take it home.”

Twenty or so minutes later Mirror Lake Inn wine sommelier Barry Sears stumped everyone with a three bottle blind tasting wherein the best anyone did was guessing the wine and country of two presented. The third wine was a fine Sicilian red, which was considered by many to be a tad unfair offering, but that didn’t stop them from finishing the bottle and scribbling down its name and vintage.

The next two days were filled with food and wine demonstrations, and tasting, under the broad theme of Elegant International Street Food, which reflect the indigenous ingredients and culturally rich preparations of regional cuisines. Featured regions included the Streets of Bangkok, New Orleans, Quebec, France, Scandinavia and Italy, plus a wine tasting and seminar with Kevin Zraly, American wine educator, author and the founder of the Windows on the World Wine School.

As always, The Ready, Set, Cook competition between Mirror Lake Inn chefs Jarrad Lange and Kirk Fiore (who began working at the Inn just two days earlier) against visiting chef Curtiss Hemm and Chef John Barton, both of the New England Culinary Institute, was a crowd favorite. The teams were given a basket of ingredients all of which had to be included in a hot appetizer and entrée, cooked and plated within an hour on just two burners.

Initially the teams had an hour to propose recipes adding to the basket any other elements they might find in the Mirror Lake Inn kitchen. They could not do any prep work, all the slicing, dicing, sautéing, frying and plating had to take place in front of a live audience encouraged to pepper them with questions by master of ceremonies Chef Paul Sorgle, vice president for Culinary Education New England Culinary Institute, past executive chef of the Mirror Lake Inn and festival coordinator.

The basket included oysters, shrimp, veal, okra, garlic and asparagus. Ten minutes into their cooking a mystery ingredient was given to the teams, which had to be included in every dish prepared, a banana, much to Chef John Barton’s displeasure. The winners were selected based on organization, cleanliness, creativity, taste, texture and use of the mystery ingredient by two volunteers from the audience along with Chef Louise Duhamel, from Quebec.

The winners, Hemm and Barton, were announced at the end of a seven-course tasting menu that featured wines paired by the very entertaining guest Sommelier Kevin Zraly. My tablemates included Jill and Tim Bernett from Sayre, Pa. who learned about the Festival a month ago almost by accident from a friend. “We were surprised to learn that it had been going on for six years,” said Tim. “Had we known about it six years ago we would have come to all six.”

“I really enjoyed Kevin Zraly’s presentation today – all the presentations and the food and wine have been just great,” said Jill.

“The staff here is very kind,” said Tim. “It is a very simple thing, but a very important thing.”

“I loved the event,” said Mirror Lake Inn Chef Kirk Fiore. “I loved cooking with John (Barton), who was the head chef at my cooking school (New England Culinary). To put out a dinner like this is amazing and a lot of fun – and on my third day working here.”

“Our daughter Leigh talked us into coming,” said Bert Mirenda. “She came last year. We love to cook. We enjoy entertaining and wine. The chefs were very personable. They were great. They gave us many ideas. It’s an incredible value. Just this dinner would normally cost at least $250 a head, and we have been having great food and wine all day. We will definitely come back next year. We have met so many nice people.”

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