By Raymond Bill

Once again, La Quinta High School Culinary Department has put together an event that will not soon be forgotten!  The Blackhawk Culinary American Diabetes Showdown took place last week in their state of the art kitchen, and provided over $3,000 to benefit American Diabetes Association (ADA). These benefit events are not only entertaining to those who attend and provide an incredible meal worthy of some of our finer restaurants in the valley, they also give the students a sense of accomplishment while giving back to the community.  It is truly a Win-Win!

According to the ADA, Diabetes directly affects 30 million children and adults in the United States, while 1.7 million are newly diagnosed each year. It is estimated that over 8 million Americans with Diabetes have been undiagnosed.  As this cause is personal for me, I could not be more proud of La Quinta High School’s efforts to raise money for this charity.  Now let’s talk about the food!

The event consisted of a couple demos before the main event.  Chef Stephen Strickland of La Quinta Resort prepared before us a Shaved Brussel Sprout Salad with Savory Granola.  Chef took questions from the audience while preparing this fresh seasonal dish of Brussel sprouts with diced butternut squash, dried cranberries, quinoa and bits of delicious bacon.  I could not help but overhear everyone raving about how this would be on their Thanksgiving menu, and fortunately for all of us, recipes were provided to take with us!

Chef Kelly Walling of La Quinta Cliffhouse stunned us with a Baked Scallop appetizer served “Nella Conchiglia” or within the shell, over a bed of mixed greens.  The scallop was topped with leeks and a rich creamy sauce before being baked in the oven.   Though not a large dish, the flavors were lingering!  This was definitely a hit and should be on their menu!

Our two competing chefs were given their secret ingredients as the evening began, as opposed to a 24 hour notice.  Of the ingredients, 40 lbs of chicken was donated by Crown Meats, providing a high quality product for the kids and chefs to cook with.  Fresh tomatoes were donated by L & G Produce. The third secret ingredient was fresh zucchini and the chefs could not have been happier with their challenge!

Master Chef finalist, Stephen Lee, prepared a Northern Italian style Cannelloni stuffed with chicken and mushroom, finished with three sauces, a rich and creamy Béchamel Sauce, fresh tomato sauce, and a thick pesto.  The dish was garnished with a tomato concasse, giving the dish a bright acidity and balance.  It was as colorful as it was delicious and certainly had my vote!

Competitor Chef Scott Robertson from New Leaf Catering impressed the crown with his tender Stuffed Chicken with marinated artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers and a creamy chicken mousse. Served with a creamy pumpkin polenta and finished with a zucchini pesto, this was a crowd favorite!

A dessert demo by Chef Sherry Pena of Desert Cities Catering featured a sugar free selection that everyone could enjoy!  A duo of Pumpkin Mousse and mini pumpkin pie topped with a sugar free house made whipped cream had many begging for more!  Her humor and attention to detail kept all eyes on her while she demonstrated how we could recreate her recipe at home.

But judging a competition like this is not easy and I say that having been in their shoes at a previous Blackhawk Showdown.  The audience makes up for a portion of the vote but judges have the daunting task of selecting the victor!  And on this occasion, Chef Scott Robertson and his team of La Quinta High School Culinary students get to claim bragging rights for a job well done!

For tickets and more information, contact Sean Webb at (760) 772-5020 or visit their Facebook page, “Blackhawk Culinary Showdown”. Space is limited and tickets will sell fast, so be sure to stay tuned for upcoming events.

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