Golden Fork Winner Announced in Louisiana Food Prize Competition

Jeremy Conner's cobia tataki, a firm white fish slightly seared, with satsuma and ginger, was delicious during the first night of Louisiana Food Prize.

Photos by Gaile Robinson

Crossing the state line into Louisiana has gustatory rewards — the seafood gets better, the drinks flow more swiftly, and complexity of street food seems to ratchet up a notch. It’s where tomatillos supplant hatch chilies and daiquiris are more common than margaritas so Texas taste expectations have to be adjusted.

Shreveport, just across the border from East Texas on I-20 has long suffered comparison to downstate locations New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and come up wanting. To up their game, and get attention, the city began the Louisiana Food Prize where local Shreveport/Bossier City chefs are paired with nationally recognized chefs or Food Network notables. Over a week of eliminations and staged food competitions a winner is eventually awarded a cheesy, shop class-grade trophy skewered with the Golden Fork (probably spray painted) and an over-sized check for $5,000.

The winner’s package is hardly worth the sweat it takes to be crowned, but the recognition goes a long way. Last year’s Golden Fork recipient, Blake Jackson, said the win, “Took my business to a whole new level.” He went from caterer to a dessert bar owner and Whisk his new storefront is a must stop. Really. You must stop.

The competition is staged over several days mixed with show-off moments for the celebrity chefs. It’s like a day’s worth of programming on the Food Network, with one significant difference — the audience gets to eat at the competition, and that is so much more satisfying than lying sloth-like on the sofa with a box of crackers.

The first night was the “Come and Get It,” aptly named because the ticketholders stampeded the chef’s tables to try the tapas-sized servings of Troy Johnson’s fish tacos and Tristen Epps’ beef ribs with red curry, sweet and sour smoked eggplant, and pickled radish. The well-dressed but apparently starving horde took it on faith that Jason Brady’s mangalitsa lonzino with preserved peaches and toasted pecan gremolata would be good, because who knows what that is?

Whatever it was it was delicious, as was Jeremy Conner’s cobia tataki with satsuma and ginger.

Jason Brady's mangalitsa Lonzino, a kind of preserved meat, with preserved peaches.

The following day Tristen Epps and Tom Ramsey cooked a demo lunch and between teasing each other and microphone holder Troy Johnson they dispensed some very good cooking tips.

“Your pasta water should be as salty as the sea.”

“Don’t rinse your cooked pasta.”

“Use some of the hot pasta water to thicken your sauce.”

Celebrity chef's Tom Ramsey (left) and Tristen Epps (right) at a cooking demonstration.

Things mother should have passed along. Mine was notorious for burning frozen vegetables, so I didn’t get the pasta memo. I appreciated learning that. The brined flounder Epps made and Ramsey’s pasta was then served to the audience. Yes, this is a much better experience than watching television. Cooking tips, and lunch. Did I mention the wine? Lots of wine.

The local chefs got their turn at glory during the nighttime Battle of the Golden Fork, held in the middle of a downtown street, open to the public and free of charge — it was packed. The five competitors, John Strand, Eleazar Mondragon, Jacob Mouser, George Beaird, and Melissa Stewart were given identical sacks of ingredients — pork cutlets, duck eggs, stalks of sugar cane, micro greens, lemon grass and key lime balsamic vinegar, all locally sourced.

The clock was set for 45 minutes. Chaos ensued. Mondragon won.

Eleazar Mondragon, winner of the 2017 Golden Fork Award at the Louisiana Food Prize.

The very large crowd did not get to sample the one-winning plate of deep fried pork topped with a sunny side up egg, green apple and micro greens salad with sugar cane dressing.

Fortunately he and his family run a restaurant, Ki Mexico, so anytime you want to taste the winning style of the 2017 Golden Fork winner, visit Ki Mexico, 3839 Gilbert St. Shreveport, LA. (318) 861-5941.  

Gaile Robinson is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Star Telegram and The Week. 

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