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Guests were the real winners at this years Forks and Corks

August 2, 2011

I knew moving back to Starkville was a good idea for our family for lots of reasons, some of which were obvious from the beginning – family, familiarity, and of course, SEC football. 
Other reasons have popped up along the way – like food, and most recently the Forks and Corks event put on by the Starkville Area Arts Council.  Sure, a bigger city might have more chefs, more restaurants with valet parking and snooty maitre d’s, and maybe a few more celebrity sightings.  But to enjoy food from five excellent chefs all in one sitting, as we did at Forks and Corks, you’d probably have to sell off a child to afford it, or be the Next Food Network Star.  Not so in Stark-Patch.  Both my kids are intact and I don’t have my own show on Food Network – yet – but well over a hundred of us enjoyed some incredible-tasting and eye-catching food just the same.
If I could give each reader a literal taste of what we experienced that night I certainly would, but alas, I am neither a chef nor a magician.  Then again, maybe I am a magician – I’ll bet I can make your mouth water. 
The winning chefs have already been proclaimed, but I’m serious when I say that the guests were the real winners, the ones who got to taste these creative concoctions. 
My order of presentation, therefore, will not be related to any sort of medal around a chef’s neck, though they did work hard to earn them.  Instead, I have decided to describe each dish in order of the number of words in their respective titles. 
Some of these names were nicely printed out for us, and others I wrote down as the chefs told us the story of their plates.  Let’s get hungry.
The shortest title by far also brought back childhood memories of running around in circles and being tapped on the head. 
Chef Gregg Frazer, representing Harvey’s, called it “Duck-Duck-Goose.”  But the number of ingredients brought together to make this work was far greater than three, by many multiples.  The base of his tasty tower was a disc of roasted potato, topped with a neatly stacked column of shredded duck confit (duck legs slow-cooked in their own fat, which makes the meat exponentially tender and helps preserve it to boot).  All that goodness was capped by a pan-fried slice of foie gras torchon (a very time-consuming way of preparing goose liver – Chef Frazer invested a lot of time into this plate.)  On the side was a slice of brioche bread and two sauces – a cherry gastrique and a duck reduction.   As a bonus we also got to taste some rare blue-foot chanterelle mushrooms, an earthy contrast to the almost sweet taste of the duck.  Even the garnishes were unique – a sprig of perilla crowned the tower of duck and goose, and the recommended last bite was an edible Johnny Jump-Up flower.  Yes, I ate a flower, and it was delicious.
Next up, at 14 words, was the creation of The Veranda team led by Chef Jay Yates.  They cooked up a dish that did a little Cajun dance on the tongue: chipotle-glazed apple wood-smoked bacon-wrapped shrimp on fresh Mississippi sweet corn maque choux.  There was a lot of flavor going on here. The Gulf shrimp took a dip in a glaze made of chipotle peppers in adobo, brown sugar, cider vinegar, Dijon mustard and cilantro – I hope I didn’t forget anything – then wrapped itself warmly in bacon.  (What can you NOT wrap in bacon to make it better?) 
The spicy crustacean was then laid gently on a bed of maque choux, a Cajun-inspired mix of fresh-cut corn kernels, tomato, green onion, and maybe a bit of green pepper held together with butter and cream.  The sweet creaminess of the maque choux was the perfect complement to the shrimp – a surf and turf combo in the purest sense of the words.  I think this may be one of the only dishes we tried that is currently on the menu.  Check it out.
Mouth watering yet?  Mine is – I’m going to have to be careful not to drool on my keyboard.  But to give each chef’s dish descriptive justice (not to mention the Faulknerian length of the titles) I’m going to have to continue this next week.  Too much richness in one column might not be healthy, anyway. 

Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist.  The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff.  He    welcomes your comments at eatsoneate@gmail.com.

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