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Harvest Fair announces Professional Food awards

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The Sonoma County Harvest Fair Professional Food Competition 2019 has announced this year’s winners, with Out to Lunch Fine Catering of Petaluma taking home a raft of top awards in the coveted appetizer category, including Best of Show appetizer, the Sweepstakes award (for the most points) and six “Best Use Of” awards for using specific ingredients.

While there were only 15 appetizers entered from three vendors, the judges said they were impressed with the outstanding quality, giving eight double golds, five golds and two silver awards.

Out to Lunch won Best of Show appetizer for its Coconut Milk and Lime Halibut Ceviche, which also won Best Use of Seafood. Served on a crunchy, homemade tostada, the refreshing bite got a flavor boost from a blend of mint, cilantro, fresh red onion and thinly sliced jalapeno.

“The ceviche dish is one we are super proud of,” said Bethany Barsman, owner of Out to Lunch. “Using local ingredients really made the flavors pop!”

“It was light, beautiful and the essence of an hors d’oeuvre,” said Anne Vercelli, coordinator of the competition. “You just pop it in your mouth.”

It’s also the perfect appetizer to serve with a glass of white wine on a warm evening, according to appetizer judge Deidre Francis of Simoncini Vineyards in Healdsburg.

The appetizers included a few classic dinner entrees that were reinvented as small bites. For example, a hearty, wine-braised Beef Bourguignon on an herb-cheese biscuit from Out to Lunch won for Best Use of Beef and Best Use of Sonoma County Wine.

Comfort food was also trending in the appetizer category, Vercelli said, with retro dishes such as stuffed bell peppers, meatballs and turkey pot pie bringing back memories of mom and grandma.

Out to Lunch’s Lamb Meatball Sliders with Pistachios and Tzatziki Sauce took home the Best Use of Lamb, while their sweet and savory Pinot Poached Figs covered in mascarpone and toasted hazelnuts won Best Use of Cheese.

Oliver’s Market also made a strong showing in the appetizer category, winning Best Use of Poultry for their Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich and two awards — Best Use of Vegetable and Best Use of Sonoma County Product — for a Savory Cheesecake made with Bellwether Farms Basket Ricotta topped with dead-ripe, heirloom cherry tomatoes. It was a perfect dish for a savory brunch, the judges noted, and the heirloom tomatoes really made it shine.

In the bread category, there were two main awards given. Quail & Condor of Healdsburg won Best of Show Professional French Bread for their Yecora Rojo Sourdough, made with a native California yeast, Vercelli said.

BurtoNZ Bakery of Windsor won Best of Show Professional Specialty Bread for its Cranberry, Orange and Pecan Loaf.

In the highly contested Cakes & Pastries category, Costeaux French Bakery of Healdsburg won Best of Show Cake for its Passionfruit Mousse Cake, a round, chiffon cake with lemon-buttercream icing that represented a team effort between six bakers.

“It truly does reflect how much all of our desserts are a team effort,” said Karah Williams of Costeaux. “And we are so happy that the work has paid off.”

“It was a beautiful presentation, with the ombré gradation of color,” Vercelli said. “And it tasted as good as it looked. It was moist, and the flavor of the passionfruit was distinct.”

In the cake category, Vercelli said that gluten-free cakes were on the rise, and there were many classic cakes such as cheesecake, princess cake and chocolate cake.

Oliver’s Market won the Sweepstakes Cakes/Pastries Exhibitors award for amassing the most points from their medal- winning entries, including a Hazelnut Mousse Cake, White Chocolate Raspberry Mousse Cake, gluten-free Decadence Cake, gluten-free Peach Pie and gluten-free Cherry Pie.

In the crowded Individual Desserts category, which also includes cookies and candy, there were four major awards given: Simply Strudel of Petaluma won Best of Show Individual Dessert as well as Best Use of Local Products for its Vanilla Bean Cheese Strudel.

“It was just delicious,” Vercelli said. “The pastry was so light and flaky, and the flavor of the vanilla bean and the cheese was so compatible.”

Cookie … take a bite! of Santa Rosa won Best of Show Cookie for its Tequila Lime Twist. “It had great texture, very crispy, with great flavor,” Vercelli said.

Bert’s Desserts of Petaluma won Best of Show Candy for its Peanut Butter Bar, a popular confection that has won before in this competition.

“The most entries were in the drop cookie class,” Vercelli said. “There were lots of chocolate chip and chocolate cookies and several gluten-free entries, such as peanut butter, chocolate chip and almond.”

But what’s a sweet treat without a comforting cuppa joe?

In the coffee category, there were three classes: single origin, blended (light to medium roast), and blended (dark roast). Retrograde Coffee Roasters of Sebastopol won Best of Show Coffee for its Milky Way Blend, a blended (light to medium roast).

In the growing Ice Cream & Dairy category, Best of Show Ice Cream went to Dave’s Gourmet Ice Cream of Santa Rosa for its classic flavor, Cookies’n’Cream.

The Charcuterie & Pantry category drew a total of 90 entries for everything from bacon and mushroom jerky to spices, sauces, pickles, salads, condiments and preserves.

“It’s a large, very diverse competition,” Vercelli said. “We had many flavors of granola, which is a popular item, and pickles are also very popular. We had Napa Cabbage Kimchi, Red Beet Slaw, Yellow Beet Slaw and Bread & Butter Pickles.”

Catered by Patti & Friends of Cloverdale won best of Show Charcuterie for its classic Spinach Salad with egg, bacon and raspberry vinaigrette.

Golden State Pickle Works, which sells at farmers markets and Oliver’s Markets among other stores, won Best of Show Pantry for its Peanut Ginger Sauce, a naturally probiotic sauce made with housemade sour cream. The company also won Sweepstakes Delicatessen Exhibitor.

While most of the judging was held in late August and early September, the olive oil judging was held in June so that the product could be tasted fresh.

“We had 28 entries, and half of them were flavored,” Vercelli said. “That makes a statement.”

There were 24 oils entered from five vendors in six categories, including delicate, medium, robust, citrus, herb and other.

Best of Show Olive Oil went to Laconia-Crete Olive Oil Co. of Healdsburg for its medium oil, a blend of Frantoio, Pendolino, Maurino, Coratia, Taggiasca and Koroneiki olives grown in the Dry Creek Valley.

The winners of the Professional Food Competition will be serving bites alongside the award-winning Harvest Fair Competition wines at the 2019 Sonoma County Harvest Fair’s Grand Tasting on Oct. 4 and 5.

“It will be concentrated in the Grace Pavilion,” said Heather Borck, exhibits coordinator. “There will be food vendors outside during the Grape Stomp, and that event is free.”

Next year, the Harvest Fair will merge with the Sonoma County Fair in August, in order to capitalize on an event already happening.

“It will be an event within an event,” Borck said. “This is a large change, but we’re excited about the fair’s future.”

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.

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