First Martha’s Vineyard Wildfood Challenge was quite the success

Monday night the entrance to Détente was filled with people flocking to the Wildfood Challenge. Young women arrived holding platters covered with cloth napkins. Those who had already dropped off their offerings paced outside, wondering how the three judges upstairs would rank their dish.

Onlookers crowded into the restaurant to hear what wild ingredients people had foraged, hunted, and used. Once the judges sampled and ranked a dish, it was moved to a side table where the curious were invited to sample. Actually tasting the dishes was an unexpected bonus and thrill.

Thirty-three entries, compared to the expected 10 or 12, were submitted. Open to everyone, the challenge attracted a young, upbeat, and creative crowd. While some of the cooks were professional chefs, others were simply intrigued by the challenge.

“I was absolutely blown away by the enthusiasm, the diversity of what people were coming up with,” Billy Manson, event organizer, said. “It was fantastic. The winner actually harvested his own sea salt. These are the things that I was absolutely amazed and thrilled by.”

First prize went to Daniel Sauer, previously the chef at Outermost Inn, who recently started 7a Farm with his wife Wenonah Madison. Based in Aquinnah, they sold produce at the West Tisbury Farmers Markets this summer.

Mr. Sauer’s Wildfood Competition entrée consisted of wild goose breast from Aquinnah, wild goose confit, Aquinnah hen of the woods (a wild mushroom) mushroom risotto, purée of stinging nettles from Chilmark, honey-glazed onions, and Russian olives gastrique, seasoned with sea salt harvested in Aquinnah.

The results were visually beautiful, delicious, and often combined ingredients in incredibly different ways. Raw clams, for example, were served on a bed of wild cranberries. The hen of the woods were cooked in various delicious ways, each one highlighting the delicacy of this special, though ugly, mushroom.

The judges certainly looked like they enjoyed their job but it could not have had an easy time selecting the winners. The lucky three who got to taste all 33 entrees were Kevin Crowell, co-owner of Détente; Mr. Manson, a private chef; and Noli Taylor, of Island Grown Initiative.

Dishes were judged on presentation, effort, taste, and on how wild the ingredients were. Second place went to Scott Ehrlich, chef at The Sweet Life Café, who made Sengekontacket Bay Scallops, East Beach bluefish, Lagoon Pond littlenecks, Morning Glory Farm corn and rice, smoked bluefish dashi, Edgartown School apples, Morning Glory shiitake, and toasted nori.

Scott Cummings won third with juniper-rubbed venison, kohlrabi terrine, raw dandelion, truffled salsify purée foie gras, and wild beach plum compote.

Chris Fischer’s Brook Trout and Canadian Goose Salad looked to have included the greatest number of wild ingredients. The trout were stuffed with apples, celery leaves, and cranberries, while the braised goose legs were paired with black trumpet mushrooms. The salad was on a bed of pea greens and butter head lettuce sprinkled with hazelnuts, chestnuts, and acorns. There was even a Russian olive berry sauce in there. The taste was clean, complex and delicious. It’s not surprising Mr. Fisher won an honorable mention.

When asked if he thinks they’ll have a Wildfood Challenge next year, Mr. Manson replied, “100 percent. This year we were trying it to see what happened. It turned out really, really, really cool.”