Judging The Cherry Contest

by Matt on March 20, 2011

A few weeks ago I headed down to sunny and beautiful San Diego (which I am loving more than humanly possible these days but more about that later!) to judge the Powered By Red recipe contest from Choose Cherries. Stop right there, I know what you’re thinking: “you have to head down to one of the most beautiful cities in America, hang out with lovely people, taste plate after plate of delicious recipes, pick a winner and come home and my god that has got to be the most difficult thing ever! Poor you!” And you’re right, but I hope you know the lengths I’ll go through for you. Why? Because I love you. And I love tart cherries.

Yours truly with the wonderful Dr. Wendy Bazilian

My affinity for these little beauties began last year when I visited Traverse City, Michigan with the Cherry Marketing Institute. It opened a whole new world to me and I haven’t been able to kick my tart cherry fixation ever since. When the opportunity came to judge the recipe contest alongside Dr. Wendy Bazilian I immediately said yes. And I’m glad I did because spending the afternoon with the lovely Dr. B. eating cherries was just what the doctor ordered! Ok, not really, she didn’t order anything but had she, well, I would have done it. Because she rocks. And so does Dr. Jason Bazilian.  And while she’ll tell you all about the health benefits of tart cherries, I shall tell you about their flavor: tart, tasty, perfect. Now you can see why I was excited about the recipes.

So many cherry recipes to taste!

I arrived in San Diego while the recipe finalists were being plated. There were 3 plates of everything, in three categories: Novice, Student, and Professional.  I skipped breakfast and opted for an apple on the way down so you better believe I was ready to eat. And eat we did. We tasted ice cream, panini, ribs, bread pudding, and many other dishes featuring cherries, but there were three clear winners that emerged from the pack. In fact, it was almost unanimous! Let’s check out the winners, shall we?

Food photos provided by Choose Cherries

Sweet & Spicy Tuna with Cherry Cabbage by Jaime Brown-Miller of Napa, California. This recipe entry won in the novice category but you wouldn’t know it. It was by far one of the more interesting uses of dried tart cherries and really provided a nice balance to a bevy of entries that sometimes focused on all things sweet. Plus cherries and red cabbage together? No, really, amazing. It works. I fully plan on making the slaw come summertime. And the sriracha on the tuna? Love love love.

Food photos provided by Choose Cherries

Cherry and Lamb Tagine by Paige Adams of Chicago, Illinois. From the Student category, this winner was just lovely. It managed to feature cherries in a recipe that was heavy (but not heavy-handed) on spices but still let the cherries compliment the entire dish. It was delicious, lovely, and nice to see lamb make an appearance. And according to the recipe tester it was simple to prepare.

Food photos provided by Choose Cherries

Cherry Basil Orzo Pasta from Chris Bugher of Huntington, West Virginia. This recipe won the Professional category and it literally only took one bite for Dr. Wendy and I to glance at each other and smile. You know, sometimes the simplest ideas work and stand high above the rest – this was a perfect example. Just look at that little ingredient list, there’s really nothing too it but the fresh flavors of dates, feta, basil and tart cherries. A very happy combination. This pasta dish will certainly become an outdoor summer favorite and I can see it pairing well with barbeques of all sorts. Thank you, Chris!

To get the recipes for these winning entries please visit Choose Cherries. I’d love to know what you think if you decide to make any of them. And thanks to the folks at Choose Cherries!