ALBANY — When Matt Bennett talks food, people listen.
Y’know, Matt Bennett? He’s the owner of Sybaris in Albany.
Y’know, Sybaris? That’s the place that won Best Restaurant and a kazillion other honors in last fall’s Top of the Valley Awards.
Y’know, Top of the Valley? That’s practically the perch upon which Bennett perpetually rests, given the fact that our readers voted him Best Chef in the area and that he won the first-ever Chefs’ Show-Off at Linn-Benton Community College last year.
That brings us back to the initial point: When Bennett dishes on food, you’d be wise to listen. The Chefs’ Show-Off — presented by Ten Rivers Food Web and LBCC Culinary Arts — returns at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 10, and last year’s champ was gracious enough to lend advice to this year’s competitors.
The four chefs taking part are Michael Walliser of Saffron Salmon in Newport; Nathan McClure with Oregon State University Catering; Jason Devrouax of Clemenza’s in Albany; and Chad Pope of Cappies Brewhouse in Albany.
The foursome, aided by culinary arts students, will have 75 minutes to create an entrée, using a table full of produce, meat, herbs, dairy products and other items donated by local suppliers. It’s a tweak from the inaugural format, which saw each chef operate with an individual box filled with the same ingredients. Now, it’s a free-for-all.
“It gives the chefs more freedom to cook with the ingredients they want, and it makes it more friendly to those who donate the items for the contest,” said Scottie Hurley, an organizing committee member.
Tickets to the event in the LBCC Commons dining hall will be on sale at the door for $10. Patrons will be able to sample local food offerings, and beer and wine also will be available for purchase.
The chefs are the main attraction, though, and Bennett took time out of his duties as the owner of Sybaris and three other Albany eateries to spill the beans on how to walk away as the champ. Without further ado:
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1. Keep an eye on the clock at all times.
The time element is always the trick. For me, I just opened up my cell phone to have a clock in front of me the whole time.
Make sure you’re working clean in the sense that you don’t want to be searching around for things. It wastes time. Use your assistant to your advantage. My guy was really good and had a great attitude.
2. Don’t over-think your dish.
It’s not as tricky as you would think. The ingredients you get won’t be too much of a surprise if you know what’s growing locally this time of year. It’s pretty easy to put together a decent dish because the farmers will give you beautiful stuff.
At the very beginning, I took five minutes and wrote out the dish I wanted to do and that helped tighten things up in terms of the time element. The hardest thing is to jump in and start cooking. Have a game plan, and go from there.
3. It’s OK to be a show-off.
The crowd doesn’t have a say in who wins (a panel of five judges will decide), but it’s called the Chefs’ Show-Off — you’ve got to make it entertaining for the crowd as they’re walking around.
I tried to do anything that would pander to the audience. You don’t know if you’re going to win or not, but if you can be the crowd favorite, then that’s got to count for something. Give them a good show.