Nick Bradbury voted Vero’s Top Chef at Homeless Family Center event

VERO BEACH — The competition was fierce at Vero’s Top Chef Challenge…slice dice and spice event to benefit the Homeless Family Center, as only one could take home the coveted title of Vero’s 2010 Top Chef.

The five contenders, Chef Andrew Keller, from the Club at Pointe West, Chef Michele Hennessey, from the River Grille, Chef Neal Williams, from the Lakes at Pointe West, Chef Ray Mumford, from Oriente Restaurant at Costa d’Este and Chef Nick Bradbury from Quail Valley River Club had already bested seven other chefs at the remarkable Top Chef Qualifier event in January so it was now down to the best of the best.

After winning in the qualifier, each chef submitted one seafood dish and one meat entree choice to Chef Joe Faria, Executive Chef at Quail Valley and the event’s chef coordinator, who whittled the list down to a balanced menu of five entrees.

“A lot of them put a new twist on a classic dish,” explained Faria, who admitted he was finding it difficult not to be biased towards his Sous Chef Nick Bradbury, who was competing for Quail Valley.

But when I asked who he felt would come out on top, he just smiled and said, “They’re all very talented and have worked very hard to get where they are.”

The heavy prep work had all been done in each individual chef’s kitchen and was then transported to the Quail Valley River Club event venue for the final presentation.

As we chatted during the cocktail hour, Faria said, “Right now there are about 20 of them in the kitchen.  At times like this, I stay out of the way and spend more time in the dining room.”

The whole process had to be carefully choreographed and the kitchen became a hub of organized chaos as chefs and their assistants put the final touches on their creations.

“For each dish, they have 20 minutes to plate and serve 160 dinners; that’s seven plates a minute,” explained Faria.

Some loyal fans in the sold-out crowd were there to cheer on their favorite club or restaurant chefs, and had virtually cast their votes even before tasting all of the selections, but the majority were quite happy to wait and let their palates make the decision.

Karen Mechling from The Club at Pointe West was excited about her club’s Chef Andrew Keller, who would be the first one to present.  I know he’s doing salmon; he did some trial runs at the club and it went over exceptionally well.”

As the guests sat down to partake of the culinary delights, they looked forward with enthusiasm to devouring every tasty morsel.  The innovative creations turned out to be epicurean perfection; the chefs all truly outdid themselves.  And each entree was accompanied by a different wine, specifically chosen by the chef to compliment the dish.

Chef Andrew Keller, from the Club at Pointe West was the first presenter.  His cracked peppercorn studded roulade of Scottish salmon with baby spinach, wild mushrooms and teeny pea-sized cucumber balls, turned several salmon haters into salmon lovers.

Chef Michele Hennessey of the River Grille, and the only woman contender, served up a huge butterflied prawn stuffed with pine nuts and tangy goat cheese that was set atop a yummy risotto cake, paired with a savory salad.

Chef Neal Williams, from the Lakes at Pointe West went with an ultra rich and delicious colossal lump crabmeat crème brulée, served alongside little mounds of rosemary duchess potatoes and asparagus spears, topped with tarragon cream.

Chef Ray Mumford from Oriente Restaurant at Costa d’Este impressed the crowd with a unique presentation of deconstructed Coq au Vin, which even included little individual jars of onion, fig and lardon jam.

The final presenter was Chef Nick Bradbury of Quail Valley River Club who wowed guests with his spectacularly constructed seared tenderloin of beef towers.  The beef, tri-layered scalloped potatoes, fried green beans and eggplant had been skewered with an infused bamboo stick and drizzled with Asian sauces.

When I asked, Author Debbie Macomber summarized her thoughts on the gastronomic creations in just one word, “Wow!”

With his usual flair, Commissioner Wesley Davis got some spirited bidding going on a number of live auction items after dinner, including a combination of hand-selected wines, various dining, entertainment, travel and sports packages, and a custom dinner for six by Chef Keller.

Guests each submitted one vote for their favorite entree into bright, shiny Cuisinart pots and pans from the Gifted Cook, which were whisked away for the final count.

The votes tallied by a panel of five expert judges, Dr. Harold Cordner, Anne Devanney, Michael Fahey, Elizabeth Kennedy and Kitty Wagner, accounted for 60% of the score, and were combined with 40% from guests.

While we waited for the results, Chef Faria displayed his own singular style with a rich chocolate and hazelnut torte for dessert, served with a delicious bright pink scoop that had everyone stumped; I’m pretty sure nobody guessed that it was beet ice cream.

Quail Valley COO Kevin Given had high praise for Chef Faria and for Julia Keenan, HFC Executive Director.  “She has greatly enhanced the reputation and exposure of the Homeless Family Center in the community.  And the committee is one of the best we’ve worked with.”

Event co-chairs were Denise Finizio, Julia Keenan and Dan Kross; the presenting sponsor was George E. Warren Corporation.

The highly anticipated final moment came when Chef Faria, with a particularly big grin on his face, announced that Chef Ray Mumford of Costa d’Este had come in second, and that Vero’s 2010 Top Chef was his own Sous Chef, Nick Bradbury.

And, while we all went home sated and satisfied, it was also with the thought that the money raised at the event will help the Homeless Family Center to provide programs and services for those in the community who are less fortunate.  According to Keenan, homeless numbers in our area are on the rise.

Fundraisers and contributions help the Center to provide shelter as well as the tools that will empower individuals to find jobs and housing and to become contributing members of the community. {igallery 153}

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