Judging the 2011 Foster Farms Chicken Cook-Off

It was a clucking good time at the CIA last Friday for the Foster Farms chicken cooking contest.

Last Friday at the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone Campus in St. Helena, it was an all-out fowl time.

The second annual Foster Farms Fresh Chicken Cooking Contest, brought together six contestants — two each from California, Washington and Oregon — to pit their best chicken dish against one another.

The judges (left to right): Liam Mayclem, the Food Gal, Narsai David and Natalie Haughton.

Yours truly was invited again to be a judge, alongside fellow judges, Liam Mayclem, host and producer of the CBS show, “Eye on the Bay”; Natalie Haughton, cookbook author and food editor of the Los Angeles Daily News; and Narsai David, food and wine editor at KCBS radio.

More than 2,000 recipes were entered in the contest that showcases everyday recipes for fresh chicken. Both homecooks and professional ones were allowed to enter.

The Culinary Institute of America's St. Helena campus.

Whose chicken dish will be victorious?

The cook-off was split into two rounds, with three contestants cooking at a time at the CIA’s Williams Center kitchen. They each had 90 minutes to prepare their dishes.

Whatever dish was finished first was brought out to the judges to scrutinize and taste. Alongside was another version of the dish — this one plated by CIA chefs to show how the presentation could be elevated if desired.

Fresh Mission figs set to go into one of the contestant's dishes.

In a change from last year, the cook-off was opened up to the public to come watch. Tickets were given away via my Food Gal blog and the Napa Valley Register. Lucky attendees also got to sample every dish — prepared in tasting portions by CIA chefs. Afterward, the public also had the chance to vote on the “People’s Favorite.”

Tina Hoban of Bellingham, WA blitzes cherries, olives and capers in a food processor.

Rebecca Spence of Vancouver, WA preps navel oranges for her dish.

The six dishes were: Roxanne Chan’s Asian Braised Chicken Thighs with Soybean Salad; Jennifer Daskevich’s Chicken and Quinoa with Figs, Spinach and Mint; Tina Hoban’s Chicken with Cherry Tapenade over Creamy Pancetta Polenta; Rebecca Spence’s Crispy Orange Chicken with Fennel, Avocado and Orange Salad; Timmy Baker’s Pan-Fried Chicken with Blueberry-Pinot Noir Sauce and Goat Cheese Polenta; and Russell Kool’s Crispy Basil Skinned Chicken Breast with Peach Pink Peppercorn Compote. For all of the recipes, click here.

Timmy Baker's chicken with blueberry-Pinot Noir sauce and goat cheese polenta.

The “People’s Favorite Award” was bestowed upon Daskevich’s dish of quinoa, sweet Mission figs and chicken thighs.

Jennifer Daskevich's chicken dish with figs and quinoa, as plated by her.

And a fancier presentation of the dish as plated by CIA chefs.

And the grand prize? That went to Spence of Vancouver, WA for her crispy chicken with oranges and avocado — a vibrant salad that had a wonderful fresh verve to it. Spence, who said she was speechless, was presented with a check for $10,000 plus a year’s supply of Foster Farm’s chicken.

Rebecca Spence's winning panko chicken with fennel, avocado, and orange salad as plated by her.

And the same dish plated by CIA chefs.

The dish originated when she wanted to do something with fennel, she said. “I thought, ‘What goes with fennel?’ That was the starting point. I did some research and added oranges and avocado. I served it to company one night just as a a salad with chicken on the side, and everyone thought it all went so well together.”

Indeed, it did.

For more on the cook-off, tune into Mayclem’s “Eye on the Bay,” when scenes from the event are expected to air in about two weeks.

Rebecca Spence receives her grand prize check.

Rebecca Spence’s Crispy Orange Chicken with Fennel, Avocado and Orange Salad

(Serves 4)

1 to 1 ½ pounds Foster Farms thin-sliced chicken breast fillets

1 tbls orange juice

1 tbls champagne vinegar (may substitute white wine vinegar)

2 tsp sugar

Zest from 2 large navel oranges (reserve one orange)

2 tsp salt, divided

¾ tsp freshly ground black pepper, divided

2 tbls extra-virgin olive oil

1 large fennel bulb, trimmed

1 large avocado

1 serrano chile

½ cup flour

2 eggs

2 cups panko breadcrumbs

1/3 cup peanut oil

In large bowl, whisk together orange juice, champagne vinegar, sugar, one teaspoon orange zest, 1/2 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Slowly whisk in olive oil. Set aside.

Cut white pith away from reserved zested orange; cut orange into small cubes. Chop fennel bulb into small cubes. Peel avocado, remove pit and chop into small cubes. Cut chile in half lengthwise, remove and discard seeds and finely mince. Place orange pieces, fennel, avocado and chile in bowl containing dressing; toss gently and refrigerate while preparing chicken.

Preheat oven to 200° F. Place flour in shallow bowl; combine with remaining salt and pepper. In second shallow bowl, beat eggs well with fork. Place panko breadcrumbs in third shallow bowl; stir in zest from one orange.

In large skillet over medium high heat, warm peanut oil. Dredge each chicken fillet in flour mixture, then dip in eggs and coat with panko-orange mixture. Place coated chicken in hot oil and sauté, turning, about 5 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and cooked throughout. Remove chicken with tongs and place on bakers rack over a cookie sheet in oven to keep warm.

To serve, place salad on plates. Top each salad with one or two chicken fillets.

More: Scenes From Last Year’s Foster Farms Chicken Cook-Off

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