Entrants in the 2012 Sonoma County Harvest Fair Professional Food Competition ranged from big wineries and hotel chains to budding entrepreneurs like The Strudel Guy of Santa Rosa and Mama Baretta of Penngrove, which both won top awards.
In the dessert category, The Strudel Guy took home the Sweepstakes Award along with Best of Show Dessert and Best Use of Local Products. Meanwhile, Mama Baretta took home a Best of Show Cookie for a gluten-free, Salted Caramel Nut Lace Cookie.
"I call them emerging, local artisans, who get their start at farmers markets," said Sheila Quince, former exhibit coordinator who returned to consult for the 2012 competition. "It's all about local and celebrating Sonoma County."
Harvest Fair Food Judging Coordinator Anne Vercelli brought in a raft of professional chefs in late summer to nibble their way through the seven categories: Dairy Products, Desserts, Cakes-Pastries, Bread-Morning Pastries, Appetizers, Deli-Sauces and Vinegars.
As usual, this year's entries reflect trends in the food world at large, where pork still reigns supreme. In the appetizer category, there were 15 entries showcasing pork, from ribs to pork sliders.
"The largest single class of entries was pork," Vercelli said. "We even had a whole suckling pig entered from the BBQ Smokehouse."
Although that dish received a double gold and a standing ovation from the judges, the Best of Show Appetizer went to Thai Time Asian Bistro in Santa Rosa for its Floating Market Soup, a seafood version of the Tom-Yum soup of Thailand.
The soup, made with aromatics like lemongrass and the ginger-like galangal, was served in a boat-shaped bowl rimmed with onions cut to look like flowers.
"Their presentation was a knockout," Vercelli said. "You just stopped and looked. You hated to eat it."
Thai Time chef/owner Olarn Tonverapongsiri, a native of Bangkok, opened the bistro in May 2011. His sous chef, Nit Bynum, suggested they enter the competition.
Thai Time Asian Bistro also won two other special appetizer prizes: Best Use of Sonoma County Seafood and Best Use of Sonoma County Poultry, plus two double golds. The Asian bistro also took home Best of Show Delicatessen for its Granny Smith Salad.
The Brasserie at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek in Santa Rosa took home the Appetizer Sweepstakes award this year, based on overall points earned.
Brasserie Executive Chef Richard Whipple entered 12 dishes, snagging five double golds, two golds and five silvers, plus four special awards.
One of his favorite dishes was the Grilled Black Angus Flat Iron Steak, which won both the Best Use of Sonoma County Wine and Sonoma County Beef. He also won Best Use of Sonoma County Cheese and Best Use of Olive Oil.
Best Use of Sonoma County Vegetables went to Kendall-Jackson of Santa Rosa, while Best Use of Sonoma County Lamb went to the BBQ Smokehouse in Sebastopol. The Hamburger Ranch of Cloverdale won Best Use of Pork, and the Santa Rosa Golf & Country Club won Best Use of Goat.
In the ever-expanding Deli-Sauce category, Best of Show Charcuterie went to Yanni's Sausage Grill of Penngrove for the second year in a row.
The Handmade Pantry won the Sweepstakes Delicatessen award for its many entries, which ranged from Coconut Almond Maple Granola to Ginger Peach Jam.
The Dairy Competition had 75 entries, more than double that of last year, Vercelli said.