Ever since I left the first annual Wilson Iron Chef competition stuffed and smiling, I was counting down the days until November 2.
That was the date of the fourth annual Iron Chef Hamburg, the longest-running such competition in the area, and my next chance to experience an amazing culinary event.
And of course, my next chance to sample all of the amazing food.
Like others that have mimicked its style, Iron Chef Hamburg is really four events in one. The People’s Choice competition, food tasting and auction lead into the main event, the Iron Chef competition.
Our first stop was the People’s Choice room. Nine area restaurants were set up inside the high school gym, each one with their own unique dish created using the year’s secret ingredient: apples.
Up for grabs for the two top vote-getters were places in next year’s Iron Chef competition so all of the chefs brought their best, most creative dishes.
First in line was the Bernville Eagle Hotel, who had what was probably the most original of the nine items. The chef was busy plating more when I bit into mine, and he busted out laughing when I said, “This is really good, but I have to ask. What did I just eat?” What I ate was a puff pastry topped with Swiss cheese, apple and mushrooms, drizzled with balsamic. It was a flavor that stayed with me as I made the rounds.
Next up was a stop at It’s Just BBQ, a Deer Lake restaurant known for the famous “Pink Pig.” With a limited menu of brisket, ribs, pulled pork and chicken, they had little room for adaptation, so they used the apples in the best way they could: in the sauce. Their already sweet barbecue sauce was infused with chunks of apples and drizzled atop their tender pulled pork. It was delicious, but it’s nothing I hadn’t tasted before.
Stop number three was Hamburg’s Pappy T’s Pub & Lounge, who opted for roast duck topped with apples and bacon. I can honestly say that I never expected to taste duck on this trip. The duck was good, though it was a little chewier than I like, but that was probably because it had to sit in a warmer for an extended time.
Moving on, we arrived at Adelphia Seafood, who made the trip from West Lawn with their apple and cheddar bisque topped with crab and/or bacon. Not being a fan of crab meat, I opted for bacon-only, and while I enjoyed it, I didn’t find myself wanting more.
One dish that I would have really loved to have tasted when it was fresh was the meatballs being served by the Schuylkill Country Club of Orwigsburg. By the time I got mine, it was lukewarm, though the flavors still popped, a combination of sweet and savory with the apple really shining through.
The Indian Fort Inn went for a dish that was both simple and complex. The Hamburg restaurant gave us chicken and apple atop fried wontons. The only thing that hurt this dish was that the wonton was a little too strong, throwing off the balance just enough that the wonton was the only flavor that stayed with me.
The biggest disappointment of the day came from the Virginville Hotel, not because their food was bad, but because their food was already gone by the time we got there. What made it worse was seeing the description of their pork-based dish sitting on the table in front of an empty warming tray.
Apparently knowing I was coming, the Bowers Hotel prepared traditional Pennsylvania Dutch schnitz und knepp. I was almost forced to vote for it on principle, especially as the chef kept scooping more onto my plate in an effort to ensure I got a dumpling. It was everything I could have hoped for, I only wish I would have had a bowl so I could have better enjoyed all the juice that had pooled on the plate.
Last, but certainly not least, was the Kempton Hotel. The restaurant came in with the same idea as It’s Just BBQ, opting for pulled pork with an apple-based barbecue sauce. It was good, but tasting the same thing twice turned me off to voting for both dishes.
In the end, Julie and I split our votes between the Bernville Eagle and Bowers Hotels. I won’t tell you which side my votes fell two days later during the election, but I can tell you that we did not cast the winning votes in the People’s Choice. Instead, it was announced that Adelphia Seafood earned the top honor with It’s Just BBQ coming in runner-up. In all honesty, I would not have been shocked by any of the eight dishes we tried earning the nod.
With such great participation in the People’s Choice competition, I was a little disappointed with the vendor area. Of the 25 vendors, only a handful were restaurants. The rest were a mix-and-match of food-related businesses that included Pure Wild Tea, Solude Coffee, Tastefully Simple and Dove Chocolate. The Hamburg School District also prepared a multitude of dishes using their kitchen’s vendors like Tyson chicken and Jennie-O-Turkey.
But there was good food to be had, including white chicken chili from the Bowers Hotel.
Deitsch Eck also brought some of their housemade pies. Having already sampled the shoo-fly pie on my visit, I grabbed a piece of peach pie. I’m looking forward to going back to the restaurant for a full slice.
Keeping with the sweets, Way-Har Farms had three flavors of ice cream to sample: strawberry, peanut butter and my choice, vanilla fudge.
Penn Werner Hotel was also there, though all that was left when we arrived were chicken bites that you could use to sample hot wing sauce and promote the 2015 Pepper Jam.
Between the end of the food tasting and the start of the Iron Chef, guests could buy raffle tickets or bid in the live auction.
The big prize was the opportunity to be the fourth judge for the Iron Chef, a prize that went for well over $500.
There was also a door prize raffle, and I was glad my number wasn’t called because it seemed that every prize package included two tickets to see Tony Orlando.
Iron Chef Competition
The grand finale of the day was the Iron Chef competition. Three chefs were competing for the title of 2014 Iron Chef: Paul Weitzel of Haag’s Hotel, Ron Liszcz of Stirling Guest Hotel, and defending champion Tim Twiford of Prime Steak and Wine (at the Crowne Plaza).
The three chefs had 35 minutes to make and plate their dishes, using all of the three secret ingredients: top round steak, Brussels sprouts and Ramen Noodles.
Chef Twiford came well-prepared, bringing his own cart full of gadgets, including a smoker gun which got the audience’s attention as soon as he lit it.
With the steak serving as the entree, chefs had to get creative with their sides and the required salad that would be presented with it. Chef Weitzel, stationed on the opposite end of the auditorium stage, took his Ramen noodles and used them to garnish his salad.
When the 35 minutes passed, the chefs presented their dishes to the judges, and the crowd had a chance to bid for a taste as two plates from each chef were auctioned off for a combined $600.
After the votes were tallied, Chef Twiford was declared the winner, successfully defending his title and earning him a place in next year’s competition.
It was a fun day to be a foodie, an event that I’ll be anticipating again next year.
I already circled November 1, 2015 in my calendar.