Just hearing the words cranberry bacon jam crostini, blackened ribeye salad, smoked salmon fusilli and caramel corn ice cream can make a foodie’s mouth water.
But 800 lucky food lovers were able to taste these tantalizing tidbits offered up by 13 local chefs at the annual Chefs on Parade event.
The event is held in tandem with Parade of Homes, sponsored by the Home Builders Association of Tri-Cities, which allows attendees to visit a series of homes and chat with home builders.
The chefs competition was added to the long-standing Parade tradition after HBA looked for ways to keep the more than 50-year-old event “fresh.” The idea came from a building association in upstate New York.
“With the growing foodie population in the Tri-Cities, we knew this event could be a great community addition,” said Jeff Losey, executive director of the HBA. Chefs launched in 2011. “Adding food to (Parade of Homes) makes it a very enjoyable evening.”
Another change took root in 2013, when the first-ever food truck chef participated.
“The heart of this event has always been to highlight, and potentially introduce, some of the most talented chefs in our area. Where food is served, be it a fancy restaurant or a food truck, doesn’t necessarily determine its quality or the chef’s talent,” Losey said. “Currently, some of the tastiest and most creative things in local cuisine are happening in food trucks so we would be remiss to not include them.”
This year’s September event was a resounding success, Losey said.
“It was another great tribute to the homes and chefs; it continues to thrive in our market,” he said.
Winners of the 2017 Chefs on Parade were announced this month.
Judges selected David Stenoien and Kavita Patel-Stenoien of Fast & Curryous, who featured butter chicken curry and mango lassi, as Best Chefs on Parade.
Tanner Guy and Andrew Chilton of Doggy Style Gourmet took second place, while Kyle and Shirley Simmons of CG Public House & Catering finished third.
The public voted LuAnne Wiles and Kathleen Claymore of the Tri-Tech Skills Center Culinary Arts Program as the People’s Favorite Chefs on Parade.
Antonio Campolio of The Marc Restaurant in Walla Walla, won the contest in 2011 and 2012, followed by Jason and Megan Savely of Frost Me Sweet Bakery & Bistro in Richland in 2013. Megan Savely and Megan Kammerer (who has since returned to her hometown of Hood River, Oregon, and works in the kitchen at Full Sail) won in 2014, and the Savelys won again in 2015 and 2016.
“We put everything into Chefs on Parade every year. We would shut down the restaurant that day and focus solely on doing Chefs,” said Megan Savely, Frost Me Sweet’s general manager. “We came into it like a competition. We prepared for it in all different aspects like you would a competition. We saw it as a chance to show people what not only our restaurant can do but what our bakery can do as well.”
She called the event an “amazing opportunity” to get in front of 800 people “who like what we like, and we wanted to take full advantage of our chance to show them what we can do. We liked to show a variety of different dishes and desserts because that’s what we have when you come to Frost Me Sweet.”
The chefs aren’t the only ones who appreciate the annual event.
Losey said attendees also “love the event,” with a large number returning year after year.
Here’s how it works: HBA divides the number of tickets by the participating homes to spread out the crowd. For instance, with five homes participating each night of last month’s event, 160 tickets were assigned to start at each home.
Those who want to attend next year’s event will want to pay attention to when tickets go on sale, as the Parade of Homes and Chefs on Parade continues to grow in popularity.
Total tickets sold this year were limited to 800, with tickets going on sale the first business day in July. Tickets sold out by Aug. 25.
“On average, there are around 50 people sampling the food and touring the home at one time,” Losey said. “During a rush, that number can jump to 100 to 200 people. We’re thankful that our attendees are patient and understanding during these periods. This is meant to be a fun community event and most attendees share in that spirit.”
Participating chefs strive to serve the freshest food possible, which can be a challenge with the sheer number of Parade attendees walking through the homes in one evening.
Megan Savely said the experience was “a bit exciting as well as a bit stressful” since her team was up the entire night before the event and right up until the doors opened chopping, dicing, baking and prepping.
“Freshness is very important to us so we never had items we could prep days in advance. We also did most all of the cooking that night in the kitchen as to keep everything as fresh and delicious as possible. That required an assembly line of about four to five chefs every year cooking different elements of the items we were serving,” Megan Savely said.
When designing dishes, her team had to figure out the logistics of accommodating several people in a home kitchen without getting in one another’s work spaces. Creating the dishes was the most fun, she said.
“We create them based on what we feel is trending and what we enjoy. We figure if we all eat it and think it’s amazing, then the guests coming through the house might, too,” she said. “We were able to go on the parade this year as patrons and it was really fun to get to see the other side of it for the first time. We look forward to returning to Chefs in the future and we are glad that we were able to step back for a year.”
Chefs on Parade is limited to guests 21 and older, as alcohol may be served in some of the homes, which is a joint decision by the builders and chefs, Losey said.
“In the future, we’d like to keep shining a spotlight on the wonderfully talented chefs in our community. They are one of the factors that make this area such a fantastic place to live,” Losey said. “The HBA has always strived to include a mix of cuisine styles (in Chefs on Parade). We’re lucky to live in an area full of so many varied and talented chefs.”
The event also provides excellent feedback to the chefs, said Megan Savely.
“Chefs on Parade is a wonderful event, and it allows us as owners to actually get out and talk to people instead of being locked away in the kitchens like we are most of the time now,” she said. “It’s delightful to hear people say that they love your food, or your desserts, or it’s their kid’s favorite place for dinner. It’s nice to feel that support in the community for our dream; it’s very humbling.”
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