On Sunday, September 13th, five local chefs competed live at the Chattanooga Market during the annual Cast Iron Cook Off, a popular event that has been taking place for over 10 years at the Market. This year’s competitors were Michael Lindley of Public House (2014 returning Champ), Charlie Loomis of The Feed Co., Sarah Benoit of 212 Market. Rebecca Barron of St. John’s and Mac Casteel of Acropolis Grill. Guest chef Tami Cook from Atlanta was the event’s Emcee.
The chefs arrived in the morning armed with their cookware, cutlery, serving dishes and cooking utensils, but nothing more; the Market provided each chef with a pantry of basic items (salt, sugar, vinegar, etc), a mystery ingredient or two, and a modest budget ($25) which they used to shop the Market for the remaining ingredients they needed to prepare their meal. The “surprise” ingredient were fresh sea scallops donated by Whole Foods Grocery, a sustainable seafood selected by the Tennessee Aquarium as part of their annual awareness campaign. The use of scallops in the meal was not revealed to the chefs until their arrival the morning of the competition.
Chef Charlie Loomis, which just recently opened The Feed Co. Table & Tavern (201 W. Main Street), wowed the judges with his version which featured an asian spice from the Market’s own Alchemy Spice Company.
“The Chefs are local celebrities,” says owner/farmer Thomas O’Neal. “People love going to their restaurants and eating well prepared food. But what is unique about the Cast Iron Cook Off is how they are not coming to show off rare ingredients shipped from around the world, or expensive restaurant-quality gadgets. What they showcase is the quality and flavor of fresh, locally-grown ingredients that come directly from the growers. The chefs are skilled artisans who demonstrate a high level of craftsmanship at doing what thousands of Chattanoogans do each week when they come to the market to buy the best, freshest ingredients from local farmers”.
The Cast Iron Cook Off is held in support of the Tennessee Aquarium’s Sustainable Seafood Initiative. The goal of the Aquarium’s program is to encourage everyone to make wise seafood choices. Simply put, if you buy seafood caught or raised in the U.S., you’re supporting fisheries that are the most sustainable in the world and you are supporting U.S. jobs.