An annual competition used the love of food to benefit a nonprofit organization that works to prevent hunger among those in need in Livingston County.

Now in its 14th year, the Iron Chef Culinary and Mixology Competition returned to Bordine’s Nursery in Brighton Thursday night. The fundraiser support Gleaners Shared Harvest Pantry in Genoa Township and their mission to ensure food security in the community. Vendors at the event offered a taste of local cuisine and beverages to guests.

The night kicked off with the mixology competition, which featured Toni Pomranky of Bourbons, the returning 2016 and 2017 champion, and newcomer Caitlin Wilkinson of Diamonds Steak & Seafood. The pair was given just six minutes to make a drink using a secret ingredient, which was revealed to be roses. Judges voted in favor of Wilkinson’s “grapefruit rose gin fizz”, passing the mixology champion title onto the first-time competitor. Iron Chef returning champion Chef Craig Myrand, Culinary Director for Diamonds Steak & Seafood, the Silver Pig, and Cello, then went up against Challenger Chef Ryan Louwaert, Executive Chef for Bourbons.

The chefs were tasked with creating a three-course meal, each of which had to incorporate bleu cheese; this year’s secret ingredient. Though Chef Louwaert won the appetizer round, Chef Myrand won in the entrée and dessert rounds, therefore defending his title as the reigning champion. Myrand’s appetizer was smoked bleu cheese, with a sunny-side up egg and grilled scallops. He then followed with parsley ricotta gnocchi with bleu cheese cream sauce, grilled mushrooms and chicken thighs. He finished with fresh berry pot stickers, roasted red grapes, and toasted almonds with cinnamon, topped with a savory bleu cheese glaze. Louwaert’s appetizer consisted of scallops with roasted corn, mushrooms and bell peppers, sautéed in fresh herbs with a bleu cheese sauce. His entrée was grilled pork loin and sautéed vegetables. His dessert was grilled angel food, topped with berries, bleu cheese, berry compote and fresh mint.

Myrand says he's glad to support Gleaners, noting the event will help feed over 300,000 people, and hopes to raise that bar next year even higher. Though disappointed by the loss, Chef Louwaert was just glad to have been a part of the event, adding what matters is they're feeding people. Bridget Brown, Director of Food Secure Livingston, says the Iron Chef event is Gleaners largest fundraiser each year in Livingston County. Reflecting on the event’s large turnout, she says it’s not just a show, but something that makes a huge impact on those who need it most.

There were multiple ways to support Gleaners at the event, including raffles, auctions, the opportunity to purchase one of the meals made by the chefs, and a lemonade stand. The stand is run by 7-year-old Carmen and 6-year-old Lena Ness, who have raised over $1,100 for Gleaners in the last two years by selling lemonade. The sisters say they wanted to help families have the nice food that other families have. Dan Ingram, General Manager for Bordine’s, says it is this aspect of a whole community’s involvement that has inspired him to continue to host the competition by donating the space.

Scott Gidcumb has volunteered at the event for the last 12 years and is now responsible for assembling the chefs’ ingredients and work station. He says Gleaners’ mission is what keeps him coming back. Gidcumb says their efficiency, 94 cents of every dollar being used to feed those in need, is a huge part of that, as well as the symbiotic relationship of the tri-county organization.

Gleaners serves hundreds of local families on a monthly basis. President and CEO Gerry Brisson says the best part of the benefit is seeing the community’s support to help those in need. (DK)