Sonterra victorious at 2013 CRA Expo

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Beef short ribs.

Chicken breast and thigh.

And chestnuts.

Those were the three secret ingredients, in order of appetizer to dessert, tossed at area chefs competing in yesterday's Colorado Restaurant Association Pikes Peak Chapter 18th annual Food and Wine Expo at the Broadmoor.

As in past years, I was participating as a helper in the media-chef culinary competition, this time with chef Jay Gust of TAPAteria. Gust still holds a respected hat-trick during his time at the Ritz Grill, when he won this CRA event each year between 2005 and 2007.

Try as we did, victory was not ours in the end, as Sonterra Innovative Southwest Grill took both the Best Appetizer category as well as the Best Overall Champion de Cuisine award.

First-time competitors Edelweiss earned the Best Dessert award, while defending champions Garden of the Gods Gourmet won for Best Entrée.

My photos and notes below are limited to what I was able to nab before and after my cooking and pantry-runner duties, but I've at least got the deets on the wining dishes and a small taste of the larger affair.

CRA Pikes Peak Chapter board member Dave Brackett of Pizzeria Rustica and TAPAteria notes a "record crowd" this year. Before the hordes started filing through the doors, McCabe's Tavern's Greg Howard told me that pre-sale tickets were up by several hundred.

Lets give the victors their due first:

CRA Expo 2013
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Best overall chefs Josh Davis and Zach Wellmann, who won for Best Entree last year, took top honors this year.

For the appetizer round, Sonterra's chefs took the beef short ribs and incorporated the meat into an arugula salad with a mustard-apricot vinaigrette.

With the chicken, they gave it a chipotle chile treatment and served it with a creamy manchego bacon nage over bacon rice and a four-herb chimichurri.

And for dessert, they constructed a vanilla goat cheese-stuffed wildberry-chestnut compote with a vanilla-cinnamon crème Anglaise.

CRA Expo 2013
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Perennial winners Amy Fairbanks (formerly Pontius) and Larissa Vendola (formerly Warner) celebrate yet another CRA triumph.

For their entrée win, Amy Fairbanks and Larissa Vendola of GOGG concocted a pan-seared chicken scaloppini layered with green chilies, prosciutto, chèvre and handmade pasta with roasted tomatoes.

CRA Expo 2013
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The Edelweiss chefs, photographed here prior to the contest, nailed the judges' collective sweet tooth.

Edelweiss chef Jeremy Engle (who earned Best Overall in 2009 when he was with Jake & Telly's Greek Taverna) and crew assembled a blackberry-chestnut mascarpone inside a mint crepe with habanero-caramel sauce and spiced pears.

And now onto snapshots elsewhere from the day:

CRA Expo 2013
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Blessed are those who serve us drinks. These smiling faces were among those participating in this year's inaugural bartending contest.

CRA Expo 2013
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Spirits samplings played a much larger, and welcome role in the expo this year.

CRA Expo 2013

CRA Expo 2013
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Excellent gluten-free pastries from Pueblo's East Coast Pizza & Bakery.

CRA Expo 2013
  • Matthew Schniper
  • West side power! Jake & Telly's and TAPAteria find solidarity over the ingredient pantry.

CRA Expo 2013

CRA Expo 2013

CRA Expo 2013
  • Matthew Schniper
  • My teammates, as bouyant as two balloons — a red and blue one to be precise. (Dammit, that's a stupid caption ... oh, well.)

CRA Expo 2013

CRA Expo 2013
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Greg Howard from McCabe's Tavern (left) and Franco Pisani from Paravicini's discuss how awesome beards are ahead of event go-time. (Not really.)

CRA Expo 2013
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Separate chef Ott Mathias (right) from Jake & Telly's owner Jake Topakas (pictured earlier, high-fiving Jay Gust), and the word "Opa!" is not yelled once. Or at least it wasn't, best I can recall.

CRA Expo 2013
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Pistachio and chicken pate, courtesy La Baguette in Old Colorado City.

CRA Expo 2013

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