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August 29, 2008 11:00 AM

I'll be the judge of that: part two

Posted by Nancy Leson

This week, Columbia Crest Winery, in conjunction with the Food Network, announced the winners of their national "Flayvors of Washington" recipe contest: Teresa Ralston, a homemaker from New Albany, OH, won the grand prize: an all-expense-paid trip to NYC where she'll cook with Columbia Crest's new red-headed spokesboy Bobby Flay. Ralston beat-out second-place winner Zoe Doll (a pianist from Clifton, NJ) and third place-taker Edwina Gadsby (a retiree from Great Falls, MT). But talk about "winner take all": that would be me.

Back in June, I spent an afternoon at Chateau Ste. Michelle, tasting the 10 semifinalists' recipes pictured above. Chosen from nearly 700 entries, that elegant spread was prepared by the culinary staff at the Woodinville winery and matched (natch) with Columbia Crestwines. And not only did I get to taste those tasty morsels, I got to walk with the recipes.

Each featured Washington State ingredients in creations meant to be "inspired by" Columbia Crest Grand Estate wines, now being flogged by the Flay-vornator. My job was to help winnow those 10 entries down to five finalists. The winners were chosen by Bobby and his Food Network sous-chef Miriam Garron. Me? I had help from a couple of local dudes: Chateau Ste. Michelle culinary director John Sarich (who, back before their was a Food Network, was a TV cooking-show star in his own right) and Columbia Crest winemaker Ray Einberger, seen below flanking me in the formal dining salon at the chateau. And yes, we took our jobs as judges very, very seriously: that's Ray, sniffing the goods, just like they taught him in winemaker's school:

Here's the thing that really blew me away. Though the entrants were home cooks, most of their entries, judged on their use of Washington state ingredients, taste, originality and wine "inspirability," were as good as -- if not better than -- many of the dishes I've tasted in all my years of reviewing restaurants. Swear to God. Here are the winners, ready for their "close-up", along with links to the winning recipes, each well worth replicating at home in your kitchen.

The you-gotta-try-this-best-chicken-burger-you'll-ever-eat grand-prize winner -- Chicken Curry Burger with Crispy Proscuitto and Warm Apple Chutney:

The coulda-been-served-at-Rover's second place-taker: Lamb with Blackberry-Mint Sauce and Roasted Vegetables:

And the third place winner -- Dungeness Crab and Sweet Corn Tart with Sauteed Chanterelles. This savory cross between a tart and a quiche was so good, I nearly wept when I ate it. And if it was me choosing the first-place winner, Edwina Gadsby, originally from Olympia, WA (which perhaps explains her perfect pairing of crab, corn and chanterelles) would have been going to NYC to hang out with Bobby Flayvor:

Drunk with love for the "Flayvors of Washington," I bid my judging buddies adieu and headed home to my computer and some "real" work. But first I stopped to take a photo of the grapevines lining the drive leading to Chateau Ste. Michelle:

Those well-tended grapes are just for show, and would never be confused with the incredibly poorly-tended (yet surprisingly prolific) vines growing in my wild-and-crazy backyard:

So, have you ever entered a recipe contest? What did you enter? Any luck? Don Pardo! Tell me what you won!

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