Once a year culinary teams from all over the Appalachian region meet to participate in a unique, friendly competition: The Cast Iron Cook-Off. From Pennsylvania to North Carolina, from Tennessee to West Virginia, different chefs have the opportunity to create, cook, and present a four-course meal cooked in traditional cast iron. For the last two years, Mountwest Community & Technical College has proudly sponsored a culinary team led by Chef Instructor Isabel Cross, where twice in a row they have brought home the grand prize.
Created by the Collaborative for the 21st Century Appalachia, the Cast Iron Cook-Off has become West Virginia’s premier culinary event. Around twelve teams composed of two professionals and eight culinary amateurs spend 75 minutes preparing, cooking and presenting a regional menu to a group of judges that will choose a winner. For Chef Cross the competition was exciting and challenging. She discovered the richness of local cuisine where ramps, rabbit, trout, and chestnuts were locally grown and available. She and Chef Lawrence Perry created a distinctive regional menu that with the assistance of seven culinary students, crowned them winners for the first time in 2012.
After being the overall winners last year, Chefs Cross and Perry were asked to participate in a new level of the competition in 2013, “The Throwdown”, where previous winners of the Cast Iron Cook-off have to compete against each other. Chef Cross took the challenge to heart and after several brainstorming sessions, she decided to give Appalachian cuisine a new turn and fuse it with an international flair. Regional flavors were mixed with Asian techniques and aromas, creating her very own AppalAsian menu. Some of the menu items included a venison carpaccio, a sweet and sour pumpkin soup (with a kick of moonshine), miso duck salad, and shaken buffalo. The judges raved about the concept, the flavors, the artistry and the overall presentation, giving Mountwest the win for the second year in a row.
Culinary dexterity, passion for food, and love for a career that has shaped Chef Cross’ life have paid off. She and Mountwest have been invited again to represent West Virginia in the 2014 Cast Iron Cook-Off: The SuperBowl.