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A flair for fare

Local chefs earn bragging rights at competition

POSTED: October 19, 2011 1:30 a.m.
/Photos for The Times

Chef Andrew Weeks, center, rolls out a pastry for one of the courses during the recent ACTS Battle for Best in Philadelphia. The team of chefs representing Lanier Village Estates in Gainesville won the national competition, beating out several other teams in an "Iron Chef" style showdown.

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When the culinary staff at Lanier Village Estates say they are the best, that’s not just lip service. It’s a verifiable fact.

A five-member team from the retirement community in Gainesville recently won top honors in the ACTS Chefs Battle for Best culinary competition.

The local team was lead by chef Tony Denauro and included Andrew Weeks, Matt Hulsey, Flavia Campos and Matt Sanchez.

"The biggest thing that we received was bragging rights," Denauro said.

"Within the (ACTS retirement community family), they always talk about Lanier Village Estates and our fine food, so we felt like the other teams were really gunning for us.

"Not to be conceited, but now they all know why they talk about (us) so much."

ACTS is nonprofit, faith-based organization for seniors with nearly two dozen continuing-care, retirement communities around the country. Lanier Village is its only community in Georgia. The cooking challenge also raised $12,000 for seniors in need through the ACTS Samaritan Fund.

The competition was held in Philadelphia and was similar to the Food Network’s "Iron Chef" challenge, where competitors must create a meal using a secret ingredient.

"They told us in advance what the secret ingredient would be," Denauro said.

"We sat down as a team and came up with our menu. I trust my team and didn’t want to take credit for everything, so it was a collective effort."

The chefs had to create a three-course meal — appetizer, entree and dessert. The secret ingredient was cheese, so they had to include it in each dish.

For the appetizer, Weeks created a goat cheese cucumber roll. The roll was an English cucumber stuffed with peppers, carrots, ginger, garlic and goat cheese that was served atop a sunflower seed cracker and arugulla.

"It had to be a cold appetizer or salad, so the goat cheese and cucumber went together perfectly," Weeks said.

The entree was cooked up by Denauro. It was a beef tenderloin with a chipotle and cashew herb crust. The tenderloin was drizzled with a cabernet sauvignon demi-glaze and served with a cornmeal cake that was made with mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.

For the final course, the team’s pastry chef decided to use a cheese that’s not often associated with desserts.

"I did a bread pudding with smoked gouda (and Grand Marnier marinated strawberries) and a mascarpone chocolate mousse," Campos said.

"Gouda goes (well) with chocolate, so I knew that would be a good combination."

The competition was judged by food service professionals.

To make it to Philadelphia, the local team had to win their regional competition, before advancing to the final round where they competed against four other teams.

The team says cooking in unfamiliar surroundings was challenging, but ultimately the competition itself was reminiscent of weekly meals at Lanier Village Estates.

"It was pretty much the same type of food. The only real difference was the plating," Weeks said.

"When you plate for a competition, you put more flair into it, but as far as the flavors and food goes, we work with those regularly."

"We are one of the few ACTS communities that has (regular) fine dining," Denauro said.

"We like to be very creative with the cuisines we cook and the flavors that we infuse in dishes."

Although the competition had a shorter time frame to prepare meals than the team was accustomed to, the trade-off was that they only had to cook meals for three judges and smaller samples for the audience instead of 600 daily meals for the 450 residents at Lanier Village.

"Everyone had really good food, but I think ours was better. Out of 135 possible points, we were told we earned 127. To be eight points from perfection is great. I’m really stoked we scored as high as we did," Denauro said.

"We received a team trophy and (individual) gold medals. Those are nice, but sometimes being able to say that you’re the best is even better than having a gold medal on your chest."


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