A NEW ASPECT OF THIS year’s Hudson Valley Restaurant Week, the Crown Maple Chef’s Challenge, stoked the chef’s competitive fires, inviting participating chefs to create a recipe with Crown Maple syrup. More than 40 participants entered the Challenge, creating an appetizer, entree, dessert or cocktail with Crown Maple syrup as a key ingredient and featuring it on their Restaurant Week menu. The challenge was sponsored by Crown Maple and The Valley Table magazine.
Recipes were received and judged by a panel of chefs, and one winner chosen for each of the four categories. Diners had the opportunity to cast votes for their favorite dishes as well.
“The Crown Maple Chef’s Challenge added a new dimension to Restaurant Week for diners and chefs alike,” says Janet Crawshaw, Restaurant Week organizer and Valley Table publisher. “Chefs were challenged to use maple syrup in new and exciting ways—and diners tasted the results of their creativity.”
The winner in the cocktail category, the Crown Maple Mack & Jack cocktail, was based on a drink on the inaugural menu at Harper’s when the trendy restaurant opened in Dobbs Ferry a year and a half ago. Bartender Justin Montgomery, who co-owns the restaurant with chef Chris Vergara, says the restaurant is “very chef driven, very ingredient driven. We designed the cocktail program to compliment that—we use as many local ingredients at the bar as we do in the kitchen.”
The popular drink is a variation on a Manhattan, minus the bitters. Montgomery says he infused the maple syrup with sage to add a bitter element to the drink. “It’s something we’d never seen before,” he says. “You think of flavors that might come together that haven’t been done before: The savory-almost smoky-peppery flavor of sage infused into a quality maple syrup. It’s been very popular.” The drink is now a mainstay on the cocktail menu. Restaurant X & the Bully Boy Bar Executive Chef James Kelly, who won the appetizer category, is no stranger to competition. The youngest of twelve in the Kelly family (brother Peter is chef/owner of Xaviar’s Restaurant Group), he was on the team that helped assure Peter’s victory in the Chopped competition against Bobby Flay in 2007.
Kelly had been using honey to sweeten the homemade ricotta. The Crown Maple Challenge inspired him to try syrup instead. Kelly’s winning entry: Salad of heirloom beets with housemade-whipped ricotta, Crown Maple, pistachio oil & candied pecans, is now on the menu full time.
“The heirloom beets are a fantastic product,” Kelly says, “and the Crown Maple syrup just adds so much more depth to the ricotta—it has a lot more going on. The flavor profile is phenomenal.”
Kelly uses the dark amber syrup rather than the amber or light amber varieties, noting, “You can really pick out the nuttiness of it, a hint of chocolate. It’s a little heavier than the other two. It has a very clean finish.”
Josh Kroner’s entree winner, Maple brined grilled pork chop with Calvados demi-glace and maple-bacon almonds, had been on and off his menu in various incarnations for seven years. The chef/owner of Terrapin, in Rhinebeck, teamed with his executive sous chef Dan Behnken to create the winning recipe. Using maple in three ways, the dish has a complex of flavors and textures, something Kroner has experimented with over the years. “I started doing a pork chop with Calvados,” Kroner says. “Three or four years ago I started maple brining it, and then Dan and I developed the recipe for the maple bacon almonds as a tappas.”
The addition of the nuts to the maple-brined pork added interest and texture, he says, and “the textural component totally enhanced it. I used to sweeten the Calvados demi-glace with apple juice concentrate, but it’s better with the Crown Maple syrup. We’re totally happy with it.”
And so were his customers. The entree proved to be the most popular dish on Terrapin’s menu during Restaurant Week.
Downriver, Pasqual Dedi is the executive chef at Zuppa, one of the first restaurants to open as part of the Yonkers waterfront revitalization, and his Crown Maple panacotta proved to be the winner in the dessert category. Dedi added a few surprises to this simple Italian dessert to take his perfect preparation to another level—a nip of bourbon, a little thyme and Crown maple syrup.
“This is a traditional Italian dessert,” Dedi says, “but we try to do unusual combinations, and this is a good combination.”
The bourbon “gives a little kick to it, and the thyme adds a surprising note.” (“Most people think to use mint,” he says.)
The maple syrup was a new experience for Dedi, however. “Using this maple syrup, it’s not something that’s normally found in traditional Italian dishes,” he admits. “I don’t think it’s even available in Italy—I never had maple syrup until I came over.”
Winners’ prizes included a one-week professional education class at The Culinary Institute of America, a new iPad, a copy of The Professional Chef (John Wiley, 2011), special product packages from Crown Maple, as well as a private guided tour of Crown Maple for each winner. (“When I told my son about this (the tour), he was so excited,” James Kelly says. “He’s 8 years old and I don’t know who’s more excited, he or I. We’re like a couple of kids.”) The winning chefs will also be featured at a special event to be held at Crown Maple this fall.