If you were not at last week’s Crater Lake Chef Challenge, you were one of few.  This was our largest turn out yet and with each week bringing more spectators and “foodies”, we are certain to see more people next week. Raffle prizes included spa treatments from J.W. Marriott’s Desert Springs Resort and Spa and the Westin Mission Hills Resort and Spa. I can’t think of a better reason to show up.  Oh wait, then there’s the food!  With complimentary appetizers provided by Rio Azul Mexican Bar & Grill in Palm Springs, Giuseppe’s Pizza and Pasta in Palm Springs and Cathedral City, and samples of gourmet food from some of the top chefs in our valley, I know this is the best way to start my Wednesday night!

Week seven was intense!  Chef Oliver from one of my favorite restaurants, Rockwood Grill, took on Chef Joel of the Westin Mission Hills Resort.  I knew immediately that this was not only going to be a close competition, but likely the best food that I have tasted.  First course was a unique one for Chef Joel of the Westin; when I think of ice cream, mozzarella cheese is not a flavor that comes to mind, but this deconstructed Caprese-style starter had all the Italian flavors.  A cool mozzarella ice cream was plated beside heirloom tomatoes of all sorts; this was not only delicious, but a beautiful presentation!

Chef Oliver got right to the point with his surf and turf combination of rib-eye steak and lobster tail, poached in Crater Lake Hazelnut Espresso vodka.  The lobster was subtly sweet and very tender.  This dish was nearly perfect!  For a second course, homemade ice cream with strawberry compote, garnished with a crisp tuile/ cookie.  The food was rich and intense with flavors!

Chef Joel finished strong with his rib-eye steak as well, seasoned with fresh herbs and garlic, cooked to a perfect medium rare.  The air was filled with the aromas of garlic and seared beef.  The rules require these chefs to complete their courses within an hour’s time and although Chef Joel’s second course took much longer, it was up to three judges to decide how to score.  Were his selections strong enough to take on this amazing chef from Rockwood Grill?  As it turns out, yes!  Westin Mission Hills Resort’s Joel Delmond was victorious over Chef Oliver in our 7th week of competition.

Part of the judging criteria includes the use of fusion in how the Crater Lake brand of spirits is incorporated into the recipes.  Along with taste, presentation and other important considerations, these two chefs have shown the most talent thus far, in my opinion.  The competition is not over so come by Fixtures Living in Rancho Mirage on Wednesdays, between 4pm and 6pm, and say hello to these great chefs.

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