TRAVERSE CITY — Glazed scallops, smoked duck breast with creamy liver mousse, and a dish called Mission Fig-possible are some of the small plate options on the menu for the Michigan Wine Great Lakes Culinary Challenge.
The new Culinary Challenge takes place from 7-9 p.m. May 22 at Lobdell's Teaching Restaurant in Traverse City. It will have six students from Northwestern Michigan College's Great Lakes Culinary Institute serving up a dish they created to pair with a particular wine to a panel of judges.
Tickets are $70 and include a taste of each of the six small plates and 12 wine tastings.
"Everyone gets to try all six if they like," said Robin Dana, the creator of a black mission fig and whipped brie dish.
Dana's inspiration for the dish that includes bedazzled fig foam was BeDazzled, a sparkling white wine made by Black Star Farms in Suttons Bay, one of the sponsors of the event.
"I know I love black mission figs," said Dana, a student in the NMC culinary program. "It pairs well with the wine because it is sweet when it dries."
The challenge started in March with 12 students whose creations were featured in an online voting campaign, with people choosing the small plate they'd like to see developed for the competition based on a written description of the dish. The students created their small plate after pulling the name of the wine they would pair it with out of a hat.
The six students who garnered the most votes will go on to the live event, where they'll pair their small plates with the wines from Black Star Farms in Suttons Bay and Bowers Harbor Vineyards on the Old Mission Peninsula, which is also sponsoring the event.
Each student will have their own table at the event, with about 75 mini-servings of their small plate.They'll present their creation to the crowd, as well as talk about what inspired them.
CeErica Chriss graduated from the NMC Culinary Program this spring and, if she wins, will use the scholarship toward her bachelor's degree education.
Her small plate, succulent southern shrimps and grits, was inspired by her mom's French Creole cooking.
"My mom cooked shrimp and grits for us all the time, so I just wanted to bring my home into school," said Chriss, who tweaked the recipe for the challenge according to the wine's notes.
Chriss didn't know a lot about wine before this challenge, just the little bit she picked up in the culinary program.
"But I knew nothing about how it should taste and what I should pair it with," she said.
Strolling diners on Wednesday can sample the dishes, which will actually be paired with two wines — one from each of the wineries.
Local chefs will judge the plates and choose a winner, who will receive a $1,000 scholarship. The winner will also present his or her plate at two upcoming wine and food events — the Harvest Dinner in the Vineyard on June 12 at Black Star Farms and Dining in the Vines on June 29 at Bowers Harbor Vineyards.
The challenge is also sponsored by Traverse City Tourism and by Boathouse Restaurant on the Old Mission Peninsula.
This is the first event of its kind in the area, said Sherri Campbell Fenton, proprietor of Black Star Farms. It supports both local college students and local wineries, she said.
"It's a really exciting opportunity for the students to have some real-life experience and an opportunity to get in front of guests in some high-profile local restaurant and winery events," Fenton said.
"It's kind of a fun way to get the community involved also," she said.
Event judges are Rob Rodriguez, a culinary instructor at NMC; Jack Wenz, director of culinary operations for Black Star Farms; and Jim Morse, chef at the Boathouse Restaurant.
After the Challenge
The Great Lakes Culinary Institute has a new director, Leslie Eckert, who will begin on June 5.
Eckert comes from Durham, North Carolina, where she was the culinary director at the Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham.
"The (Great Lakes) institute was very attractive to me," she said. "It's a very well-established culinary institute. It has a great following and a great staff."
Eckert replaces Fred Laughlin, who retired in December after 27 years with the NMC program.
An executive pastry chef and a certified culinary educator, Eckert's specialty is artisan breads and petits fours.
She has an associate's degree in culinary arts from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, a bachelor's in culinary management from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, and an MBA with an emphasis in hospitality from South University in Savannah, Georgia.
In 2013 Eckert was named National Chef Educator of the Year by the American Culinary Federation; in 2014 the Federation named her the Southeast Region Pastry Chef of the Year.