By Raymond Bill –
After a few weeks of being merely a spectator at this competitive event, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in the judging and, my favorite part, the tasting of the Crater Lake Chef’s Challenge. This week we watched as chef, Anthony Santucci from Capri Restaurant at the Miracle Springs Resort in Desert Hot Springs competed with chef/bar manager, Matt Lehman from Stuft Pizza Bar and Grill in La Quinta. As we approach the second half of this competition, the scores are getting closer and closer, revealing amazing talents here in our valley.
Within one hour, these two chefs shared space, providing us with two courses for consideration. Chef Santucci prepared a first course of pork tenderloin with a spiced rub, served on a fresh cucumber mango slaw. His second course, a seafood medley of clams, mussels and shrimp, served over pasta with a rich cream sauce. It was a pleasure to watch this talented chef work effortlessly to prepare such amazing flavors, beautifully presented. Chef Lehman began with a lobster tower, initially poached in Crater Lake Pepper Vodka, mixed with fresh avocado. The lobster was tender with just a touch of heat. His second course was a perfectly seared sea bass that melted like butter in my mouth. We were surprised to find out Chef Lehman is also the bar manager at Stuft Pizza. His flair was present when he removed his chef coat to reveal a loud Hawaiian shirt to match his boisterous personality.
Together, these two talented chefs provided an amazing meal and great entertainment for the large crown that showed up for this event. The decision was close but the three of us judges, collectively, elected Chef, Matt Lehman the winner with another close score. Both of these men are incredibly talented and I look forward to dining in their restaurants soon. The Crater Lake Chef’s Challenge is held at Fixtures Living, across from The River in Rancho Mirage Wednesdays from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm. Hosted by Mix 100.5’s Bradley Ryan and KDES’s Bob O’Brien, the competition continues for three more weeks of preliminary qualifications with a final cook off October 24th. Show up for great food, entertainment and raffle prizes.