By Niesha Lofing
Two California cooks are one step closer to $10,000 after their dishes were ranked the best in the Foster Farms West Coast Chicken Cooking Contest's regional finals, held today at Le Cordon Bleu in Sacramento.
The first annual contest, open to cooks in California, Oregon and Washington, garnered 2,000 recipes. The pool of entries were narrowed to 15 - five from each state - and regional finals were held to determine the top two dishes.
The final competition is scheduled for Sept. 17 at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena.
I was among three of the judges who had to taste all five and decide which two would move on the final round. Adrienne Bankert, of KCRA, and Georgeanne Brennan, of The San Francisco Chronicle, also served as judges.
Hard day eh?
It was difficult to settle on just two winners, but in the end it was the panko-crusted lemon butter chicken with Israeli couscous salad by Rebekkah Leber of Hayward (pictured at left) and spinach stuffed chicken breasts by Alexandria Boswell of La Jolla (pictured at right) that emerged victorious.
Brennan, of Winters, said the spinach chicken breasts were her favorite of the dishes we tasted. A spinach lover, Brennan enjoyed the fresh dill, cheese and spinach stuffing and the striking color contrast of the greens against the white chicken meat.
The other semifinalists from California included Megan Bailey, of Monterey, for her pumpkin seed and wild rice chicken fajitas; Sandra Keefe, of Fullerton, for her black orange pekoe chicken breasts and Vee Lark-Williams, of Los Angeles, who submitted a recipe for crispy feta chicken croquettes with a mandarin orange sauce.
Leber and Boswell will receive $1,000 and will get a free trip to St. Helena for the final round.
The grand prize is $10,000 and a year supply of fresh Foster Farms chicken.
The contest is hoping to fill a void left by the National Chicken Contest, the nation's premier chicken cook-off. The contest was suspended in 2009 due to the economy.
The contest, along with the Pillsbury Bake-off and the National Beef Cookoff, boasted one of the most lucrative purses in the country.