St. Louis started Mardi Gras season on Saturday not in Soulard but at the World's Fair Pavillion, with the annual Cajun Cook-Off. Chef Christopher Lee of Cafe Ventana, Sanctuaria, and Chuy Arzola's and chef de cuisine Katie Case took top honors in the professional division.
Christopher Lee took a moment to talk to Gut Check about his win...
What did you cook, and why? I made a "Creole Trinity": a play on words for the peppers, onions and celery used in Creole cooking. The dish was comprised of chicken and waffles -- cornmeal waffle topped with rye-whiskey butter and bacon-infused maple syrup, with a side of spicy fried chicken; crayfish pie was a shout-out to Kirk's. We used to do these for Taste of the West End. It was a flaky turnover with a crayfish filling and a Creole mustard remoulade. Barbecue shrimp and grits was a shout-out to Sanctuaria. It's our wicked-good shrimp with Irish cheddar grits.
What inspired the dishes? Dr. [Gurpreet] Padda, Ami Grimes [owners of Lee's restaurants] and I collaborated on the concept. In the past I tried cooking for other chefs, and this year I cooked to impress the judges. God has a lot to do with inspiration as well, 'cause sometimes I don't know where the ideas come from. They kinda just show up.
Will we see the dishes on any of the menus? Chicken and waffles you will see at [our new barbecue restaurant] Hendricks, when it opens early summer. Crayfish pie is at Sanctuaria. The shrimp is already at Sanctuaria. At Cafe Ventana we will do gumbo and some other treats. We already have beignets.
Who do you think gave you the biggest run for you money? I'll admit there are a few that get in the top three consistently. Jack MacMurray, for one. Josh Galliano [Monarch]. Truth be told, I try to outdo myself every event I do. Taking what I learned from the last competitions, likes, dislikes, et cetera.
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