Although Cazenovia residents have suspected it for some time, on Jan. 29 it was made official that the chefs of The Brewster Inn are the best in Syracuse.
During the first annual Iron Fork competition at Syracuse University’s Hildegarde and J. Myer Schine Student Center, Executive Chef Jason Wright, Executive Sous Chef Stephen Franks and Sous Chef Dave France, of Team Brewster Inn, took first place out of 12 teams representing 11 Central New York eateries.
“Going into it, I thought our chances were one in 12. After our performance, I didn’t think we had placed, because all the other competitors were so talented,” Franks said. “We did well, and our flavors were on, but I was shocked when they called our names and had us all get up on stage. I can’t wait to do it again next year.”
The inaugural event was in the vein of Food Network’s “Iron Chef,” where participants are charged with creating dishes which incorporate an ingredient that is kept secret until the competition begins.
Two weeks before the event, each team received a list of five possible ingredients, including cheese curd, banana, monkfish, fennel and kohlrabi. The day of the event, the 12 teams were informed each of their offerings were required to include fennel, an aromatic vegetable with a consistency similar to that of celery.
For the judges, the team from the Brewster Inn prepared a fennel tart with a fennel sauvignon and cranberry gastrique, which was served with a fennel and prosciutto salad along with a fennel-encrusted grouper wrapped in chicken skin. Fennel-apple sherbet rounded out the course.
The three chefs also prepared fennel salad with scallop ceviche, and braised lamb with fennel ravioli during the competition.
Cazenovia native and celebrity chef Anne Burrell helped with the judging along with WSYR’s Carrie Lazarus and Don Cazentre of The Post-Standard.
Sharing in Franks’ mild uncertainty, France knew they had performed well, but wondered how they compared to other professional chefs from high-profile restaurants in the area. “I knew we had an equal change at the start, but at the end, I wasn’t sure how well we had done,” he said. “When they said we had won it, I was surprised. Incredibly happy, and surprised.”
Second-place honors at the Iron Fork went to Sysco Syracuse, and third place was given to Syracuse’s Century Club.
Following the event, Burrell signed copies of her latest book, “Cook like a Rock Star,” and presented a lecture, entitled “Studying and Cooking in Italy.” Proceeds garnered from the cooking competition benefited the Syracuse Rescue Mission.
Wright, a seasoned professional with more than 15 years of experience in the kitchen, said he was confident during the competition because of his teammates and their combined skills.
“We walked in there, just knowing that everyone there was in the same boat as we were. We had no advantage over anyone else — but at the same time — I didn’t think there was anyone there who could beat us,” he said. “When you work like we do, day-in and day-out, you get to know what you’re doing after a while. A lot of other teams had younger chefs, and they have a lot of passion, but not much experience. It comes with time.”
While it was the first competition setting for the three chefs, between all of them, they boast more than 30 years of experience – at the Brewster Inn alone.
Franks is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and Wright was educated in gastronomic arts at New England Culinary in Vermont. While France didn’t attend a culinary school, the chefs say he was a quick study and is an invaluable member to the Brewster Inn team.
The handiwork of Wright, Franks or France can be sampled seven days a week at the Brewster Inn, located at 6 Ledyard Ave. in Cazenovia. The historic Victorian mansion on the southeastern shore of Cazenovia Lake was built by financier Benjamin B. Brewster, and is currently owned and operated by Richard Hubbard.
“These are hard working guys, and they were very well prepared for the competition,” Hubbard said. “They had practiced using all five possible ingredients, so on the day of the competition, they knew exactly what they had to do.”
For more information on the Brewster Inn’s history, accommodations, menu and hours, visit thebrewsterinn.com, call 655-9232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pierce Smith is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached at 434-8889 ext. 338 or email@example.com.