It's a great way for local chefs to highlight their restaurants as well as bring new foods to the table. Among the participating restaurants was LaScola Italian Grill in Toledo. "Our chef always comes up with something creative," said Moussa Salloukh, one of the owners. The Northern Italian restaurant features Italian classics such as the popular lasagna and cheese manicotti as well as steaks and chops.
At this year's Taste of the Nation, chef and co-owner Chris Dewart prepared Chicken Involtini and gave me a recipe for the home kitchen. Involtini are Sicilian in origin and are small pounded scallops of either veal, beef or chicken or even eggplant and other vegetables are used. He opted for chicken.
The chicken scallops are then filled with the chef's choice of ingredients, rolled, and cooked by grilling or saute. Chef Dewart filled his with aged asiago cheese, fresh sage, and sun-dried tomato. Many traditional involtini recipes include prosciutto di Parma ham and reggiano parmigiano cheese. For the sauce, a reduction of pinot grigio wine and red wine vinegar and beet juice is served over the fresh spinach tossed with garlic, virgin olive oil, and red grapes. Use beet juice from cooked or canned beets.
"I use 7-ounce chicken fillets and when rolled it looks like a lot," said the chef, who planned to make more than 600 for the event. It's an item that is likely to be among the weekly specials at the restaurant.
While the chef sautes and braises his recipe, there is a recipe for grilled Chicken Involtini with Prosciutto and Basil in Weber's Way to Grill by Jamie Purviance (Sunset, $24.95).
Chef Will Pettit of Zia's at the Docks is in his "risotto mode" where he's experimenting with different ways to use risotto. For Taste of the Nation, he prepared mushroom risotto cakes, breaded and pan-fried.
Although he doesn't serve that version at Zia's now, "we do serve an appetizer of asiago risotto balls, breaded and fried and called arancine, which means 'little oranges' because it fries golden," says the 1999 graduate of the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute.
"I love the stuff," he says of risotto. "It's such a versatile dish, from cooking it creamy to fried risotto with different layers of texture (creamy on the inside and crisp on the outside)."
This year two celebrity chefs were on hand.
Chef RJ Cooper of Vidalia in Washington prepared Grilled Pork Belly with Cornbread Matsu Apple Ravigote (vinaigrette). Pork belly is served at the restaurant.
This was Chef Cooper's second time to participate in Toledo's Taste of the Nation. In 2007, he was here, just before he was named the Best Chef Mid-Atlantic by the James Beard Foundation. In a phone interview prior to the event, I asked him how this honor had changed his life or career. "It's making me work harder," he said. "You have to live up to expectations and make things better."
Mr. Cooper is a national spokesman for the National Taste of the Nation and chairman of Taste of the Nation's Culinary Council.
Chef Michael Bulkowski of the acclaimed Revolver restaurant in Findlay took an Asian twist on a Midwest favorite. "Lake Erie Smelt Nanban-Zuke-syle is a Japanese escabeche," he said. Escabeche is of Spanish origin and a dish of poached or fried fish covered with a spicy marinade.
"Actually the Portuguese brought the dish to Japan in the 1800s," he said about his research. "Smelt is a quick season." On Friday the fresh smelt were delivered. He fried them with a light breading and then pickled them so that Sunday at Taste of the Nation he could serve them with pickled ramps "with hints of citrus and chiles."
Talk about culinary creativity!
Premier Catering planned a fun event. Once again, chef Todd VanderPol created an elaborate display with palm trees, strawberries, and pineapple. This year he served sauteed shrimp with macaroni and cheese and a buffalo chicken with macaroni and cheese, a comfort food that has become so trendy and in much demand. Each was served on an individual spoon. Although these items are not on the catering menu, "these are things we can do," he said.
Adding to the festivities, CityQ Barbecue on Central and King streets showcased a whole smoked hog. Diners ate the shredded pork with sauces or on a bun.
Fat Fish Blue's Matt Sofo presented a whole roasted alligator. It was about 3 to 4 feet long and 12 to 17 pounds and roasted without the skin. The chef rubbed it with olive oil, the restaurant's signature blacked seasoning, salt and pepper. Inside it was stuffed with lemons, limes and oranges. The meat shredded like pulled pork and was served on toast points. The meat has a little spice but it is a milder flavor than fish.
Sushi is always popular at these events. Nagoya of Perrysburg served Crab Egg Roll. Koto Buki had sushi rolls - California and spicy tuna and Yoko Japanese Restaurant had Hawaii Roll and Washington Roll.
More than 40 local restaurants and food vendors participated in this event.
Kathie Smith is The Blade's food editor.
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