|Diamond Chef Arkansas winner Donnie Ferneau proudly displays his award.|
Diamond Chef Arkansas has a winner.
Judges declared Donnie Ferneau, owner of Ferneau restaurant in Little Rock and an adjunct instructor at Pulaski Technical College's Arkansas Culinary School, the victor over Andre Poirot, executive chef at the Peabody Hotel Little Rock, where the culinary competition was held Wednesday night.
The Pulaski Technical College Foundation sponsored the event, raising an estimated $70,000 to benefit the Arkansas Culinary School.
More that 400 people attended the event, which included a reception, dinner, live and silent auctions and a kitchen showdown between Ferneau and Poirot.
The culinary competition followed the format of the popular Iron Chef series in which each chef and his assistants had one hour to prepare three dishes similar to the audience's meal, plus one dish using a mystery ingredient.
Peabody General Manager Gregg Herning, who served as chair of the event, and KATV anchor Pamela Smith, who served as emcee, announced the mystery ingredient - soft-shell crabs - just seconds before the chefs began preparing a four-course meal.
Ferneau presented pan-fried soft-shell crab atop a bed of braised mushroom and celery with hollandaise sauce. His salad featured Bibb lettuce with toasted walnuts and vinaigrette. Other creations included camembert cheese wrapped in puff pastry with a strawberry and jalapeno compote, and a rack of lamb atop bed of shrimp with a béarnaise sauce and chives.
Chef Poirot created culinary sensations representatives of three continents, including an opening course of strawberry gazpacho with fried, pistachio-encrusted camembert. An Asian-inspired creation included lamb-filled wontons and lamb tartar. For an American touch, he created lamb burger with French fries and homemade ketchup, followed up with a French twist on a chocolate and hazelnut dessert.
"Both chefs showed impressive creativity under fire and created dishes that showcased the excellence of the main ingredients," said Kelley Bass, one of the trio of judges. "It was a very close competition, and both of these incredible chefs truly are winners." Bass, a vice-president at Advanced Cabling Systems, is a long-time journalist who writes the monthly food column for Soiree. Other judges were Chef Ed Hornyak, certified corporate executive chef at Performance Food Group of Little Rock, and Jim Montgomery, state training director and special events manager for Glazer's of Arkansas.
Click here to view a photo gallery from this exciting event.