During our stay at the fabulous Shore Lodge in McCall, Idaho, we had the opportunity to watch and cover the 2nd annual Culinary Festival and The Culinary King of The Mountain Competition, which took place the weekend of April 10th.
On Friday, we participated in the “Meet The Chefs Welcome Reception” and I had an opportunity to meet the four competing chefs. I watched Executive Chef Steve Topple, reigning champion, smack-talk Executive Chef Aaron Wermerskirchen, Head Chef of Junipers on 8 in downtown Boise. He was telling Chef Aaron that he was going down in Saturday’s cook-off. Executive Chef Wiley Earl from Lucky Fins and Chef Chris Kastner, part owner of CK’s, stood by and waited their turns to harass the others.
The event was held in a conference room on the second floor. The 180 degree view of the Mountains and lake was a perfect setting for the competition. The room held approximately 120 people and every chair was taken. The kitchen was directly upfront, the judges table was left of the kitchen, and the countdown clock was to right. Refreshments were located at the rear of the room.
We began our morning with a tasty beverage while waiting for the cooks to start their first dish. The atmosphere was filled with excitement as the chefs and their team of sous chefs walked to their assigned posts. The Master of Ceremonies introduced the competing kitchens. The first course prepared was the appetizer. The timer was set and the chefs began to chop, sauté and work diligently on their selected dishes. The allotted time expired and the teams backed away from their stations.
The gourmet dishes not only smelled great, but were presented in artistic arrangements. All the dishes were very favorable to the judges, but somebody had to be eliminated! The judges tasted, examine and chatted amongst themselves for several minutes. Finally, they were ready to give their input. The first round gave the chefs a bye because all the dishes were to close to judge.
From here, the teams’ next challenge was the main entrée. As the chefs created their dish, the Master of Ceremonies kept the audience pacified with culinary trivia. During the allotted time, each kitchen worked rather quietly perfecting their selected dish. This round was a double elimination and the pressure was on. Each chef gave a team member a certain task that he or she was well suited for. The clock counted down to zero and all hands were up.
Once again the judges hovered over the appointed dishes looking at every detail, every spot of imperfection that might have been missed by the chefs keen eye for quality. There were nods of approval and fractured smiles of disapproval. The spectators watched as the judges critiqued the dishes. They commented on each plate that sat in front of them. The chefs watched with intensity. The time came to announce the winners and the losers. The judges handed the Master of Ceremonies the envelope of decision.
Once the smoke cleared (no pun intended), last year’s champion, Chef Steve Topple, and Chef Aaron Wermerskirchen and their teams were no longer in the final round. Time was given to the two remaining teams as the judges took a short break.
The final deciding dish was to be the dessert course. This is where the chefs and their team had to step up to the challenge. The remaining teams just happened to be neighbors in the close quarter kitchen. Each chef mastered his dessert choice to please even the most pampered palate. There was a muffled talk between the chef and his sous chefs. They worked like a team of engineers perfecting a New York City sky scrapper that was to be the ultimate monument for all to admire.
Time was running out quickly as the clock took its last click before double zeros appeared. “Pastry bags down,” announced the Master of Ceremonies. The teams gave a sigh of relief as they patted each other on the back. The competing chefs shook hands as did their opposing sous chefs. The pressure was over. All eyes were on the judges as they picked at the sugary delights placed in front of them. The audience made their predictions as the teams waited anxiously for the judges decision. The suspense was building as the judges pondered between themselves.
Finally, we had a decision. Both teams gathered in front of the kitchen area, waiting for the announcement. The executive panel of judges handed the envelop to the Master of Ceremonies. A silence fell over the audience. Chef Wiley Earl and his team took top honors. The applause rang out as the team’s spirit was very evident. Chef Wiley was the new reigning champion.
Chef Kastner put up a hell of a fight, but Chef Wiley’s was the better team on this given day. The chef spent a few precious moments with his wife then did several interviews before taking a well deserve moment for himself. I congratulated chef Aaron (pictured, left) for his valiant efforts. I then spoke with chef Wiley (below, right). He was all smiles as we posed for our photo. Chef Wiley was born and raised in New York City. When Chef Wiley isn’t working for Lucky Fins as their Executive Chef, he spends his time being a husband and a father to his three beautiful daughters. I personally think chef Wiley is one fantastic person who has lots of goals professionally and personally. His success will not stop here, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if one day he would have his own cooking show. Congratulations, Chef Wiley Earl. A job well done!
I would like to give a shout out to Shore Lodge and the town of McCall, Idaho. Our stay was a warm and welcoming one. Everyone was very friendly and accommodating. Shore Lodge and Lake Payette couldn’t have been a better backdrop for our wonderful weekend. I will make it back one day to enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
Author: Anthony Scopel
Photographer: Anthony & Maureen Scopel
Editor: Sheri L. Thompson