By Raymond Bill –
By now I think most of the valley has heard about the Crater Lake Chef Challenge held at Fixtures Living in Rancho Mirage, thanks in part by our desert’s awesome DJs, Bradley Ryan from Mix 100.5 FM and Bob O’Brien from KDES 98.5 FM. If you have not had the opportunity to check out this event, there are few weeks left for you to see the desert’s talented chef’s compete for prizes and the glory of victory.
Last week, Executive Chef Chris Olsen from the IW Club went head to head with Chef Matt Smith from 3rd Corner Bistro and Wine Shop. While Crater Lake provides tastings of their spirits and offers wine and juices to the public, Rio Azul Mexican Bar and Grill provides delicious snacks to hold you over until the chefs present their courses. With prizes like admission to the San Diego Zoo and a ride on the Catalina Flyer to escape for the day (or weekend), there is no better way to spend a Wednesday. When the clock started, we watched as Chef Matt Smith began cutting into a fresh watermelon for his Gazpacho. Chef Matt had no assistant and made sure everything was prepared then and there, from scratch, while Chef Chris Olsen was beginning to plate his first course that had required some prep work in advance. He placed thin slices of Scottish Steelhead Salmon, cured with Crater Lake Vodka, on a plate aside a shaved fennel and citrus slaw. It was truly delicious and beautifully plated.
Chef Chris Olsen continues to the next course while Chef Matt Smith was still working tirelessly on his gazpacho. A duo of juniper sage rubbed duck breast and duck confit “hash” was placed for us to taste. The duck was seared beautifully and the temperature was a perfect medium. The flavor was intense and we were left puzzled at how quickly it all came together. While Chef Chris worked with his assistant to prepare a foie gras dish, we learned that Chef Matt Smith had studied and trained in Saint Sebastian, Spain, and that Spanish influence came through in his watermelon gazpacho with crab meat. The use of Crater Lake Pepper Vodka gave this chilled soup a little bite that paired with the sweet crab meat. The watermelon was subtle yet present, so as not to overshadow the fresh tomatoes and other ingredients he worked so hard to prepare on the spot. This competition was going to be a close one.
Chef Chris Olsen provided a fig foie gras bruschetta that was sweet like a dessert. A crostini topped with fig chutney and a foie gras puree, finished with a touch of sugar and caramelized like a traditional crème brulee. While some pondered the legality of serving such a delicacy, I dove right in. It was not easy to eat but the flavor was intense! Chef Matt Smith prepared a seared scallop aside a celery root and vanilla puree served with farro (unrefined wheat that is dated back centuries, great for soups and similar to barley in texture) that had been cooked with Crater Lake vodka and fresh pear. The Scallop was cooked perfectly and Chef also offered a tip on how to get the best sear on a scallop; sprinkling a touch of salt on the scallop before hitting the pan will draw out the moisture, causing a perfect sear every time. All components of this dish were truly incredible!
The score was merely two points apart so you know these chefs had brought their “A Game”. Who won? While Chef Chris Olsen is an amazing chef that provided many courses for consideration, Chef Matt Smith of 3rd Corner was victorious. With many categories to base scores on, Chef Matt came out on top by a very thin margin. Come visit us each Wednesday at 4pm to see who will come out on top with their chance to compete in the finals in October. Fixtures Living is located across from the River in Rancho Mirage, next to Lamps Plus on Hwy 111. Come see what everyone is talking about and maybe even win one of the many raffle prizes or meet one of these amazing chefs.