Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 17, 2013

Appalachian cook-off

Pearisburg restaurant wins awards at Cast-off competition

By JAMIE PARSELL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PEARISBURG, Va. —  From a crispy Brussels sprout salad to a pan-seared venison rib with pan-roasted root vegetables and morel sauce, this menu is not only Appalachian, but award-winning for The Bank Food and Drink, a restaurant located in Pearisburg, Va.

Recently, the restaurant competed in the eighth annual Cast Iron Cook-off competition at The Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. Under Chef Michael Behmoiras, the Bank’s team won the People’s Choice Award, tied for two awards, Best Use of Cast Iron and Table presentation and received an honorable mention for the Best Use of Protein.

The competition celebrates Appalachian culture and heritage. Chefs must use a cast-iron pan and use ingredients from the area. According to restaurant owner Linda Hayes, cast-iron cookware has an important role in today’s kitchens.

“A well-seasoned cast-iron pan is a wonderful source to sear protein and cook vegetables, maintaining the heat in a consistent fashion. Cast-iron pans can last a lifetime if cared for frequently,” Hayes said.

It goes well with Appalachian cuisine.

“Appalachian cooking is based on the use of both farmed ingredients and those found in the wild. In the early days, the farmers grew corn, beans, squash, leeks, apples, and gathered acorns and black walnuts,” Hayes said. “They raised pigs and chicken and hunted deer, elk, turkey and bear. These local items became apple cake, cornbread, chicken and dumplings, green beans and pork chops, biscuits and gravy, etc. Today we seek ramps and morels as delicacies for ingredients.”

The competition, which took place on Feb. 2, required four courses, including a vegetarian and dessert course. Behmoiras created a team to help him prepare the menu. He choose his Chef de cuisine, Josh Jensen, along with food fans Jessica Behmoiras, Kitty Devereaux, Jeff Dinger, Hayes, Debbie Leet, Tick Tawney, Mary Ann Walker and culinary student Josie Tomskin. The Bank Food and Drink competed against seven other teams. They were allowed 90 minutes to plan and prepare the meals, along with 75 minutes of actual cooking time.

Behmoiras said he remained focused during the competition by pretending he was just busy at work.

“I tried my best to ignore the cameras and the judges that were scrutinizing every move we made,” he said.

Behmoiras and his team produced the first course, crispy Brussels sprout salad with poached farm egg, spinach, apple cider reduction, Meadow Creek cheese and sliced apple. The second course followed with Virginia country ham wrapped rabbit loin with sautéed winter squash and sage gnocchi. An entree featuring pan-seared venison rib chop with pan-roasted root vegetables and morel sauce and a deep fried apple pie with sweet vanilla grits, Virginia bourbon sauce and cinnamon apple foam were served to judges.

Hayes said the competition took a lot of planning.

“The preparation was complicated in that the spotlight was on menu items that included ingredients indigenous to our area but in January, many of those items had to be sourced from other suppliers. So creating a menu that would highlight Appalachian cuisine with local suppliers and indigenous ingredients proved challenging,” Hayes added.

The most difficult dish was the salad. The team had to prepare the Brussels sprouts last, right before serving the dish to the judges.

“The Brussels sprouts had a bit too much water in them from the blanching process, so when we dropped them into the hot oil, a 2-foot volcano of fame arose, causing a little excitement,” Hayes said. “Thankfully, it only lasted a few seconds and the Brussels sprouts were fine.”

Hayes said the judges were impressed with the salad, especially the poached eggs. Hayes, who owns the restaurant with Lynn Hayes, said the recognition and awards mean a lot to the team and the Bank.

“... This competition increases the community’s awareness of our restaurant and the food that Chef Mike likes to prepare and serve. Knowing that we try to source locally as much as possible is important to many diners today,” she said.

Team member Debbie Leet enjoyed the experience and said she realized the culinary world is more challenging and technical that most people realize.

“While I am a fairly accomplished cook, I realized how much more I can learn,” she said. “The chef made us feel part of the team and very comfortable rather than being nervous.”

Behmoiras attended culinary school at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, R.I. In March of 2012, he reopened the Bank Food and Drink as the executive chef. For more information, visit www.thebankfoodanddrink.com.