Oliver’s Markets, Healdsburg’s Costeaux French Bakery and Thai Time Bistro of Santa Rosa were big winners this year in the Sonoma County Harvest Fair professional food competition. From “Quackducken,” lumberjack cake and bourbon sage tarragon barbecue sauce to Rum Pirate Stout ice cream sandwiches and exotic granolas, the competition showcased more than 200 locally produced foods worth seeking out.
In the flush of the harvest season, professional chefs, bakers, cheese and olive oil bakers and a long list of other Sonoma County producers present the best of the region, taking home a wealth of medals. Though typically a quieter affair than the pomp of the wine awards (but no less impressive), both well-known entrants and smaller boutique businesses that may only sell at farm markets or by special order spotlight some of the big trends in the food world.
In the 32 years competition organizer Anne Vercelli has been involved with the Harvest Fair food awards, she’s seen food trends come and go, and come back again. But each year, there’s always something new. Reading from copious notes she’s kept through more than a week of judging, she can barely contain her enthusiasm for everything from butter and cheese to small plates and towering wedding cakes.
“The presentations were just spectacular. The big trend is big flavor,” said Vercelli of the many entries. Here are just a few of the most notable: Merci Beaucoup Cakes (Sonoma) won double gold and Best of Show for a spiced pumpkin cake. Costeaux French Bakery (Healdsburg) won double gold for its Princess Cake. Cheesecake maker Desserts by Emily (Santa Rosa) took Best of Show honors for lemon cheesecake. A gluten-free chocolate espresso torte from Village Bakery (Santa Rosa) was also a double gold winner.
Among the pastry and bread winners: Costeaux French Bakery is a perennial powerhouse, taking Best of Show (French Bread) for their sour bagette, double gold for their seeded batard and gold for their much-loved Morning Bun.
Other contenders included croissants by rising star Dominique’s Sweets, Rally Good Bread’s vegan bread rolls and Village Bakery’s seeded sourdough.
Bear Republic Brewing Company’s Rum Pirate Stout ice cream sandwich won for best use of local products.
More winning sweet treats included Sonoma Chocolatiers’ dairy-free, orange, olive-oil chocolate, Oliver’s Market’s s’mores cupcake, The Strudel Guy’s Sonoma pear and walnut strudel, The Killer Baking Company’s cranberry pistachio biscotti and the Village Bakery’s best-of-show cookie, gluten-free chocolate walnut dreams. Waterhorse Ridge, from Cazadero, was a standout preserve and chutney winner, with triple berry bliss preserves, persimmon apricot chutney and “triple noir” preserve with blackberry, black mulberry and petite verdot.
Pastry chef Tracy Mattson’s orange and vanilla swirl and chocolate mint kiss cookies from Cookie...Take a Bite! were also double-gold winners. Gluten-free cookies from Whole Vine Products (using grapeseed flours) and an ale-infused, milk-chocolate, peanut-butter cup from Bert’s Desserts were also notable.
Savory appetizers that won the judges’ favor included several entries from Bay View Restaurant (Bodega Bay), including their trofie pasta all Genovese and baked Japanese eggplant.
Judges were “taken aback,” according to Vercelli, by Oliver’s Sonoma Quackducken, a combination of quail, duck, chicken and turkey sausage that won Best Use of Poultry at the awards.
Other top contenders: Mi Chatita Market and Tacqueria’s smoked baby-back ribs and chicken tacos, and Thai Time Asian Bistro’s Panang pork chops and Bangkok fish.