I have seen many talented chefs at Fixtures Living this month in Rancho Mirage, and last week was no exception.  It was an Italian battle between returning Chef, Anthony Santucci of Capri Restaurant at Miracle Springs Resort and Spa in Desert Hot Springs, and Chef and owner, Tony Riccio of La Bella Cucina in Palm Desert.  This event has drawn quite a number of people from all over the valley and each week welcomes more than the previous.  There are great raffle prizes and of course, delicious food, but Crater Lake Vodka also provides tastings of their spirits and wine as well.

The competition began immediately and both chefs were prepared with their assistants.  Anthony Santucci had decided to perfect his pork tenderloin that he had prepared during his first challenge weeks prior.  I thought the pork was great when I tried it the first time but having tried this pork tenderloin with a sweet and spicy rub again, I realized how much it had improved, not only in flavor but tenderness and temperature as well.  It was a hit!

Tony Riccio stayed closer to his Italian roots, offering a Salmon Piccata with a ratatouille of vegetables in a crispy parmesan shell.  The sauce was intense with fresh lemon flavor and the salmon easily flaked apart.  I knew this was going to be a difficult competition.  It was amazing to see how these chefs were able to incorporate Crater Lake spirits into their recipes and allow the flavors to come through so strongly.

For the second course, Chef Santucci prepared a surf and turf plate that featured a very tender Beef Tenderloin (seriously, I could cut it with a fork) and Cajun Jumbo Shrimp with fresh green beans and mushrooms.  It was comfort food taken to the next level.  The meal was rich with flavor and he was all smiles while he worked effortlessly to prepare his incredible dishes.  Chef Riccio opted for a classic dessert to appeal to the sweet tooth in all of us.  His assistant, and also wife and business partner, Elena Riccio, made a light and airy Tiramisu with Crater Lake Hazelnut Espresso Vodka.  It was sweet and creamy, one of my favorite desserts when made right.  Served with infused strawberries, this dish was a crowd favorite!  Now all that was left to do was pick a winner.  It was easier said than done!

After much deliberation and consideration, our victor was Anthony Santucci of Capri Restaurant.  It was clear that this was a friendly competition as it was noticeable in the chefs’ interaction with each other.  As true professionals and culinary masters, the two shook hands while Anthony was congratulated.  With their recipes fresh on my palette, I am eager to visit both restaurants soon.

There are still a few weeks left for everyone to come down and have a chance to enjoy the incredible food and drinks, all sponsored by Crater Lake Vodka, and have the chance to win many prizes with MIX 100.5 and KDES 98.5.  Come say “Hi” to me and the other judges next week and don’t forget to tell your friends before the final competition late next month.

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