Executive chef Richard Whipple of Brasserie Restaurant in Santa Rosa lives by a simple motto: "You give me fire, I can cook."
At the 2011 Sonoma County Harvest Fair Professional Food Competition, Whipple proved his mettle. After entering 10 dishes, he took home eight double-gold medals, five special awards and the prestigious Best of Show Appetizer.
"This year, we made a concerted effort," said Whipple, who has been at the helm of the Santa Rosa restaurant for four years. "I always push myself a little bit."
The annual food competition gives local restaurant chefs, caterers, bakers and other artisan producers the rare opportunity to compete in everything from dairy and bread to appetizers and desserts. The winners are announced well in advance of the start of the fair.
"Sonoma County has such a vast and diverse amount of food," said Sheila Quince, Harvest Fair exhibit coordinator. "I'm not aware of any other county that celebrates their food and heritage like we do."
Over the past 30 years, the fair's food competition has grown and evolved under the eye of Harvest Fair Food Judging Coordinator Anne Vercelli, who brings in professional chefs from all over to serve as judges.
"The entries were strong this year," Vercelli said. "We had expensive meat products like duck breast, beef tenderloin and lamb loin ... and our dairy was up 50 percent."
As usual, entries in this year's competition reflected trends in the food world at large. All kinds of salumi and head-to-tail meats, mushrooms and vegetables, artisan cheeses and dry rubs, gluten-free pastries and comfort foods were represented.
"In desserts, we had a lot of warm, chocolate desserts, and flavored cheesecakes," Vercelli said. "In the cookies, there were lots of biscotti and brownies, but the French macaroons really made a statement."
During the food competition, held in late August and early September, panels of judges tasted their way through the eight categories, awarding medals based on each dish's merits. "Double golds" are doled out when all three judges unanimously award a gold medal.