Routt County chefs compete to make best frozen dessert

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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The ice cream is chilling; the competition heating up. The first-ever Yampa Valley Farm-to-Table Ice Cream Competition is set for Sunday, May 19, at The Barley Tap and Tavern.

Jay Hirschfeld is CEO of 41North, the Hayden-based aquaponic produce farm, and he’s been holding farm-to-table dinners showcasing 41North products since January. For the first event, chef Patrick Ayres whipped up a lime leaf sorbet with micro cilantro and a crab apple ice cream for the dessert.

“Those flavors were totally unexpected,” Hirschfeld recalled. “I had no idea you could even do that sort of thing.”

Soon after, Hirschfeld’s find of a countertop ice cream compressor got his wheels turning and he churned out a tasty brainstorm — a frozen dessert competition. Local chefs and 41North clients were eager to compete.

Contestants in Sunday’s event include chef Patrick Ayres; chef Brian Sites, Aurum Food & Wine; chef Matt Molenar, Ciao Gelato; chef Russell Goodman, director of LiftUp Food Bank; chef Nick Warden, The Laundry; Jason Partovi, Skull Creek Greek; Justin Keys, The Barley Tap and Tavern; and Hirschfeld himself.

Entries aren’t limited to ice cream — they may also be custard-style, sorbet or gelato. Mix-ins and swirls are permitted, but vessels, sauces and toppings are not. Each entry must be able to be served in a “self-contained scoop.”

The competition maintains a blind tasting model, with the facts of who made which ice cream revealed only after all rankings have been submitted. But a preview of the flavors without any chef’s identity associated is allowed,

There will be a Big Iron Coffee crunch ice cream, a Warrior Whiskey old-fashioned cocktail-inspired ice cream, a lime leaf and shiso sorbet, a Palisade stone fruit frozen dessert, a lemon poppyseed frozen dessert, a chicken and waffles fried ice cream and others.

Each contestant will bring 5 quarts of their concoction to the competition, which should be enough for all attendees to get a sample scoop of 1 to 2 ounces of every submission — all served in compostable sample cups with wooden spoons. Guests then rate each sample on taste, visual appearance and creative use of local ingredients. Finally, the frozen dessert with the highest average score wins its chef the ultimate prize: bragging rights.

“In a community this closely knit, most people aren’t strangers,” chef Goodman said. “I’ve either worked with or around all these folks before.”

Chef Sites noted the friendly competition and the “Cloverdale undertone” within the group of participants: Ayres, Goodman and Sites were the owner/chef, pastry chef and sous chef at Cloverdale Restaurant from July 2017 to October 2018.

“There’s a lot of trash talking going on,” Hirschfeld said. “People take their desserts very seriously. That’s going to result in some of the best ice cream you’ve ever tasted.”

Trash-talk and winning aside, participants say the bigger message is one of togetherness and collaboration on several levels.

“I’m looking forward to participating in a creative event that reflects the identity of this valley with my culinary colleagues in this community,” Goodman said.

“It’s important to be supportive of the other people in this business,” Chef Sites said. “We’re in the restaurant business, but we’re also in the agriculture business and the meat business. Small companies like 41North, Elkstone, the Ag Alliance — they deserve the community’s and restaurants’ support.”

“Some of the greatest joy I feel about this whole project is from having people come together over food,” Hirschfeld said, “and having their minds blown about the ingredients on their plate. We wanted to take that experience of these farm-to-table dinners that are enjoyed by a higher net-worth demographic and make it more accessible for everyone.”

A guest judge ticket to Sunday’s ice cream event, which includes a sample flight, costs $12 at A VIP judging panel ticket is $74.99.

Hirschfeld noted that, if this event goes well, he’s interested in continuing with an Ice Cream Competition Round 2 with more local chefs, then maybe a Championship Round.

“May the best chef win,” Hirschfeld said.