The common denominator in the entries for this year’s AHF Culinary Competition was Potato Pearls. Five teams of chefs incorporated them into some extremely creative dishes at the AHF conference, held last week in New Orleans. The competition, sponsored by Basic American Foods, brought together some of healthcare's top chefs.

The winning dish was Potato Pearls Goat Cheese Mashed Potato Cake atop crab and corn maque choux with New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp with an Abita beer glaze and pineapple compote, created and prepared by James Roth, CEC, executive chef and Yanka Manikatova, lead retail cook of Elmhurst Memorial Healthcare in Elmhurst, IL.

“I’m from the South Side of Chicago, so if I’m going to attempt a regional dish from New Orleans, I want to do it right,” Roth says. Before arriving in the Big Easy, Roth sourced local products for the dish, including the seafood.

Roth also had to interpret an authentic dish that traditionally makes use of a lot of butter into something that fit the competition’s guidelines: No more than 700 calories, with one third of the calories coming from fat and less than 700 mg of sodium.

The maque choux portion of the dish is a Creole dish that begins with the famous Trinity: onions, bell peppers and celery in equal parts, then incorporating corn. Roth and Manikatova sheared the corn right off cobs, ensuring fresh-picked taste and texture.

The shrimp were blackened to perfection in a trusty cast iron skillet, another hallmark of Southern cooking, and glazed with New Orleans natives' favorite local beer, Abita. Tamarind gave the glaze a more complex flavor and the pineapple is what pushed it over the top, Roth thinks, along with the potatoes.

“The judges told me the potatoes were cooked perfectly,” he says. The team used a combination of two products, the potato pearls and shredded potatoes, using rings to stack them towards the sky. Crispy on the oustside, light and fluffy on the inside, the potatoes made the dish irresistible to the judges, local culinarians, including Poppy Tooker, a New Orleans cookbook author, TV personality and living legend. (See an FM video of Tooker creating a roux.)

Roth says he and Manikatova kept cool during the competition by focusing on “just executing what we had practiced,” he says. The competition, while heated at times, really brought healthcare chefs together, highlighting healthcare's collective effort to “put our best foot forward.”

The other entries in the competition were:

  • Arabian Snapper with an Avocado Yogurt Sauce, Saffron Potato and Red Quinoa Cake, Garlic and Thyme Flatbread and Kale, Red Peppers, Carrots and Beets, by Steven Bressler, retail services manager and John Graziano, CDM, CFPP, executive chef of The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, NJ
     
  • Wicked Potato Tuna Potato: Potato-Stuffed Wasabi-Crusted Tuna with a Cactus Leaf Chayote Slaw and Potato Quinoa Cakes by Michael Anastasio, director of food services and Todd Daigneault, AsCs, CEC, executive chef, Overlook Medical Center, Summit, NJ
     
  • Jazzed Quartet: Potato Pearls Wild Mushroom Roll, Super Food Pilaf of Quinoa, Edamame, Pomegranate-Sorrel Pesto and Whisper of Rosemary Glaze by Joanne McMillian, RD, director and Aatul Jain, retail operation manager and chef of Saint Clare’s Health System, Denville, NJ
     
  • Creole Chicken Stack: Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast stuffed with Andouille Sausage served atop Fresh Sauteed Vegetables and Potato Strudel, garnished with Crayfish Etoufee

 

You can view other photos of the competition chefs at work and of their final creations here.