Local chefs of Angelina’s Italian Kitchen seared, seasoned and plated their way to victory Thursday night during the Lake Havasu Hospitality Association’s 5th annual Havasu Top Chef fundraiser at London Bridge Resort.
“It’s really about the camaraderie,” said Dante Marinelli, of the Hospitality Association. “They’re Top Chef of the night, it’s not a title that is able to be used for an advertising-type deal throughout the year. It’s just for fun.”
In the end, the match had Angelina’s Victor Martinez and Alex Sanchez competing against La Vita Dolce’s Chef Dennis Malin and Sous Chef Horacio Torres and Martini Bay’s Chef Renee Villelli and Dustin Turpin.
Six local restaurants entered the contest with hope of being named Top Chef of the night, and of taking home the coveted traveling trophy. In addition to those already mentioned, was College Street Brewhouse’s Chef Gary Chacon and Tiffany Taylor; Shugrue’s Chef Steve McMillan; and The Nautical Beachfront Resort Turtle Grille’s Chef George Cerny and Chef Tappy Rock.
Three rounds centering on secret ingredients was the name of the game. The first two 20-minute rounds focused on appetizers. There was room for three restaurants to take the stage at a time. The secret ingredients included eggnog, pork tenderloin, peppermint candies and chestnuts.
Judges included Chef Benjamin Groeger, Culinary Specialist for Sysco Arizona; Chef Angel Morales, who is a Business Review Specialist of Shamrock Food Co.; and ticketholder/guest judges, Audrey Hoit and Cindy Korgan, who each bid $175 during an auction-off for a seat at the table.
Defending Havasu Top Chef event-champ College Street turned out with an eggnog-rosemary tenderloin and pan-fried chestnut dish to face off with Martini ‘s and Angelina’s concoctions in appetizer round one. The contenders’ dishes included seared pork loin in a candy-chipotle sauce, and tenderloin in sage sauce, respectively.
The second appetizer round’s 20 minutes hosted La Vita Dolce, Turtle Grille, and Shugrue’s. La Vita’s scaloppini with peppermint cream sauce and fresh pork tenderloin, and Turtle’s chestnut and roast pepper salad and pork loin in an eggnog sauce were enough to propel the duo to the third and final round alongside Angelina’s from round one. It was Shugrue’s eggnog and chestnut pork tenderloin that fell short amid the other players.
The final 30-minute entrée round had The Turtle, La Vita Dolce, and Angelina’s foodies wrestling with more secret ingredients. This time, it was black mussels, acorn squash, star anise, and New England lamb rack.
There was seasoning, blending, tossing, chopping, boiling, stirring, taste-testing and meticulous plating that led the dishes to judges Groeger and Morales, who now were joined by two more ticketholder/guest judges Ashley Staples and Marleen Schwartz.
There was much discussion among the four judges as La Vita Dolce rolled out their pasta dish inclusive of the mussels, lamb, and squash. It was the cauliflower tapioca pudding that intrigued Chef Angel.
“You don’t even taste the cauliflower, it’s really good pudding,” he said to the other judges.
Martini Bay’s honey-chipotle barbecue rack of lamb was given props for presentation but was scrutinized for being too rare. The meat was accompanied by brown sugar butternut squash and star anise, and garlic-bacon mussels.
It was Angelina’s well-plated pasta primavera over seared lamb chops with homemade brown gravy, and star-anise mussels in white wine-garlic sauce that was determined to be the showstopper.
“It’s obviously overcooked,” said Chef Angel.
“Yes, but it’s not dry,” Chef Benjamin bantered.
“It’s not dry, but it’s better than the other one, at least you can eat it,” Chef Angel said.
Staples and Schwartz agreed with the two that the dish outshined the rest as they continued tasting the presentation.
“I’d order it again,” Staples said.
During the night, 177 ticketholders were privy to wine and beer tasting, and a food line that highlighted a slew of appetizers from restaurants in Havasu. The morsels included Martini Bay’s chips and mango salsa, and their corn and black bean salsa; Red Robin’s wings; La Vita Dolce’s Italian pot stickers, and beef-wrapped asparagus; Shugrue’s bacon-wrapped chestnuts; Cha-Bones’ sesame chicken; Angelina’s sausage, pepper, and tomato sauce; Turtle Grill’s grand cheese and cracker tray; Small Cakes’ mini cupcakes and chocolate chip cookies; Campbell Cove One-Stop Deli’s Caesar chicken, and ham, pinwheel wraps; and Lake Havasu High School WAVE JTED Culinary and Hospitality’s roast beef and Swiss sliders, jalapeno poppers, and mac and cheese dishes.
“Martini Bay’s stuff was consistently good, straight across the board,” said ticketholder David Fekete, of Havasu. “But, La Vita Dolce stuck in there with the pot stickers, for sure.”
“I liked both of Martini Bay’s salsas, and, all of the Small Cakes,” said wife Dawn Fekete.
The Fekete’s agreed it was Shugrue’s bacon-wrapped chestnuts that were top-notch among all.
Also during the fundraising event, a selection of at least 20 wines were poured, and four College Street brews were on hand.
Past winners of Havasu Top Chef include La Vita Dolce (2012), Martini Bay (2013), John and George/Turtle Grille (2014); and Gary and Tiffany/College Street (2015).
Proceeds from ticket sales, 50/50 raffle, and other auction items benefits the Lake Havasu Hospitality Association’s new certified tourism and ambassador program, which coincides and springboards Havasu to the top of the heap when it comes to the America’s Best Community’s contest. The contest could net $3 million for the community in 2017.
For more information, visit www.lakehavasuhospitality.com.