Whew. First off, I really need to make a few of these. All of the entrees look great, some look superb, and three of them looked good enough to win…
In judging, I tried to keep a few things in mind. First, was the dish inspired? Did it do something interesting and creative with the ingredients? Did the chef really get into it? Did they have fun with it or did they methodically attack the ingredients and bend them to their whims? Second, how was it executed and presented? And finally – if I had seen these dishes on a menu, which would I order? Which looked so enticing that I’d want to race home and try to make it myself?
Given the ingredients, I figured there would be some spring-roll style wraps and I wasn’t disappointed. I don’t think using the wraps for their “intended” purpose is a negative – in fact, most of the wraps had something to differentiate themselves from their neighbors. Let’s take a look at these first:
Natashya made an incredible quantity of beautiful wraps with a southwestern-style twist and a yogurt sauce with some fresh spices – given the quantity and the quality, she’s clearly an expert with the rice paper.
Amber, of the exploding eggplant (heh heh), had the most colorful wraps and used soy paper, which I hadn’t seen before. I liked the use of the eggplant/yogurt sauce as a binder – as a few others commented, the quinoa didn’t seem to want to stay put and that seemed to be a good approach to address that. Lori, like Amber included some eggplant, and turned the yogurt into a really nice looking raita – the wonderfully refreshing sauce. Speaking of refreshing, Tanna used what I think what was a statistically unique phrase in her wraps: “cooling wasabi” Yikes! In any event, I loved the wall of tomatoes that was visible through the wrap.
Kate (who, in the interest of full disclosure, is my cousin) did something I love -taking a known dish and turning it on it’s side – i think the “invisible” stuffed grape leaves would have been fantastic had she been able to get the rice paper, but even so, the homemade naan was an awesome touch.
Mike was the only one who took the approach of frying his rolls, which I must admit was my first thought with the wraps (being a complete sucker for fried Vietnamese Egg rolls), so I was happy to see some crispiness introduced into the contest.
All of the wraps looked delicious, all had something unique, but if I had to pick one that rose above the others, at least for me, it would be Haloo’s roll/wrap of the quinoa omelet. The presentation was wonderful and simple. I thought the idea of embedding the quinoa in strips of omelet was genius. The homemade tomato/yogurt sauce looked like the perfect balance for the omelet in terms of flavor and texture and in this case, the rice paper really looked like it was used as a delivery vehicle for the really good stuff inside.
Both of the non-wrap recipes really appealed to me as well – Magnus’s deconstructed Cambodian spring roll was absolutely gorgeous – the plate just had a tremendous visual appeal, and despite his stated aversion to rice paper and quinoa (“Rice paper is about as attractive as Michael Jackson” is certainly the funniest line in all of the posts), the dish showed creativity in the shrimp package and looked like it was executed perfectly.
Finally, we have Pia’s roasted tomato soup with the quinoa croquettes. It stood out amongst all the dishes as one that gave the tomatoes a larger billing – they became a major player as the other ingredients took a step back and the concept of using the rice paper as a wrap completely disappeared. Visually, the dish also looked fantastic, simple and a great combination of textures between the soup, the croquettes, and 2 garnishes – one cool and smooth and one crispy.
So, in the end, it came down to Magnus, Haloo and Pia…
What would it be? The stunning presentation and creativity of the nime chow and the quinoa omelet rolls? Or the standalone tomato soup with quinoa “meatballs” – looking both complex and simply satifying at once?
In the end, it was Pia’s!
It was the one dish I kept coming back to – the one that appealed to me the most as what I would like to sit down to at my own table. It had such appeal and the same time it appeared so simple and straightforward and really embraced the ingredients in a different way. Each element looked perfect individually and together.
I am longing for a quinoa croquette right now.
There’s a concept in the software industry (where I spend my days) that striving for the right design is all about making it as simple as possible but not any simpler. It’s put even better in a quote by the author/aviator Antoine de St. Exupery* that I read recently: “Perfection, then, is finally achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” I think this dish came close to that – so congratulations to Pia, our winner, and to Magnus and Haloo both for beautiful, creative dishes that came so damn close.
Thanks to Ilva for organizing everything, and thanks for playing!
* Unrelated to food (unless you like snake, I guess) - you should read The Little Prince if you haven’t…