Chef Bryan Voltaggio of Volt Restaurant (and who can forget, runner-up on Top Chef to his own brother, after a nail biting competition and decision by the judges) was at the North Market Farmers Market on Wednesday for a Chef's Challenge. Bryan actually started the Chef's Challenges at the West Frederick Farmers Market last year- he was a big supporter of the market and had just filmed the episodes for Top Chef. I think he had really enjoyed cooking in front of people in a pressured environment on that show, because he suggested to me that he'd like to do a challenge at the market. The way we decided to do it was with just one chef for logistics, and the challenge would be that he would have to go around the market, get products from the different stands, and cook a dish onsite using what he found. Even before the Top Chef episodes aired, his Chef's Challenges were very popular with the customers, who would watch him cook things like lamb loin on a camp stove under a shade structure. Though his tools were crude, his finished product was always exquisite. Iron Chef meets MacGyver.
This time Chef made a poached egg with soft polenta, a vegetable and bacon hash, and potato souffles. He had much fancier equipment, but still explained how people could make the dishes themselves at home.
To make a soft polenta, he used three parts broth to one part polenta. He suggests never to use a metal whisk in a metal pan like he is doing here. Use a wooden spoon so the metals don't get in the food.
The egg was poached at 63 degrees C, the temperature at which the yolk and the white are the same consistency.
Bryan sweated onions and peppers, which means he cooked them to translucent without browning. He also added lardons, which are small strips of thick bacon about a few millimeters wide and an inch long. He also added Swiss chard.
The potato souffles are little slices of potato that are first fried at 250 degrees and then deep fried at 450 until they puff. Each of the souffles has a little dehydrated something on top. Bryan taught the audience how they could make their own dehydrated herbs in the microwave.
The audience really enjoyed Bryan and I enjoyed emceeing with him. The first Chef's Challenges we did last year, I prompted him a lot because he would get really involved in cooking. But this time he was a seasoned pro, and explained his processes really fluidly- it's obvious that being what the Denver Post recently called himself and his brother, the "hottest chefs in the country", has given him tons of practice to be not only an excellent chef, but also one who knows how to entertain. Thanks so much to Bryan for his ongoing support of the farmers and farmers' markets, and for having his wonderful restaurant, Volt, here in Frederick.