Once upon a time, I worked in restaurants. I washed dishes at the Palace Restaurant, cleared tables at now-closed Father Murphy’s, and was a waiter and cook at Gazpacho’s. Then while in Montana, I refined my skills by cooking in two upscale restaurants, and it was there that I got excited about being in the kitchen.
It was also there that I realized working until midnight, having my dog lick my shoes (mmmm, grease), and the diet of French fries and Coke wasn’t going to work.
I tend to be a morning person, and four hours of sleep five nights a week caught up with me.
So instead of cooking veggies, I focused on growing them and eventually teaching people how to grow them. In hindsight, I stand by my decision, and I think it was the correct one.
However, I still have decent knife skills; I can make a roux from scratch and a mean pot of soup. But my aptitude pales in comparison to those on display this year during the Iron Horse Chef competitions at the Durango Farmers Market.
The Durango Iron Horse Chef, organized by Colorado State Extension Office and Healthy Lifestyle La Plata, is a competition where the chefs shop and prepare a meal entirely from our Farmers Market using food purchased from local grower-vendors. Each chef is provided with an identical “secret ingredient” – a meat raised locally (available for shoppers at the market) – and $75 in Market Bucks.
Chefs have 30 minutes to run around the market in their baggy break-dancing pants, fancy coats and black clogs, and shop for the rest of their ingredients.
Returning to their “kitchen” (a canopy with two burners, one grill, a couple of appliances of their choice, five ingredients they brought and most importantly, an assistant chef from the Durango High School ProStart Culinary Team) they have one hour to prepare as many dishes as they would like – all of which contain ingredients from the market.
The first event on August 28 had Chef Vera Hansen of Cyprus Cafe barely beating out (by a pinch, or a skill, or a dash) chef Chris Crowl of Cosmopolitan.
The final showdown, to be from 8:45 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, will pit defending champion Ryan Lowe of the Ore House against Hansen.
The winner will receive the coveted traveling trophy – the personalized Iron Horse Chef competition jacket.
Over the last three years, this event has demonstrated the importance of supporting local agriculture, the benefits of eating locally grown food and the ease of preparing tasty meals.
We also have been able to showcase multiple restaurants that support local agriculture and feature these items on their menus.
This is a fantastic spectator event, and the chefs love all the encouragement from the crowd.
And just maybe, one of them can successfully incorporate a massage, lemonade or one of those cute homemade T-shirts into their dish.
[email protected] co.us or 382-6464. Darrin Parmenter is director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office.