Last Sunday evening the Champaign City Center was transformed into an event that could rival any Food Network competition I’ve ever seen. 175 guests gathered to eat, drink, and celebrate local food while supporting The Land Connection. Four teams, each comprised of a talented chef paired with local farmers and food producers, cooked up beautiful dishes for the judges and guests to try. While all were deliciously creative, only one could win.
Team #2—FIRED!/Smoked, won the hearts (and stomachs) of both the Judges’ Choice and the People’s Choice votes. Chef Adam Shallenberger cooked up a juicy pork belly from Sugar Grove Family Farms, a tasty lacinato kale and yellow wax bean ragout with produce from Meyer Family Farms, topped with a sweet finish of Marcoot Jersey Creamery’s aged gouda. Congratulations to the winning team!
The runnerup team was The WheelHouse, with Chef Ryan Rogiers showcasing smoked chicken from Bane Family Meats, butternut and acorn squash arancini, with cheese from Ludwig Farm Creamery, and greens from Blue Moon Organic Farm. Chef Ryan even infused each dish with smoke right before serving! Team V. Picasso, with Chef Leaf Defehr, Sola Gratia Farm, Cascade Poultry and Eggs, and Ludwig Farmstead and Creamery brought the comfort food with a tempting fried chicken and kimchi collard green roll. Finally, Chef Jake Haag from team Acres Inn paired with Crooked Row Farm, Ruhter Bison, and Marcoot Jersey Creamery to make us a delightful delicata squash soup with a bison meatball topped with carrots, beets, crispy kale and smoked gouda.
The evening continued with people mingling as they enjoyed tastings from local breweries, including Silver Tree Beer and Spirits, Better Days Distilling, Blind Pig Brewery, Triptych Brewing, Destihl Brewery, and Riggs Beer Company. Coffee was featured from Mark Herriot and Columbia Street roastery, followed by creative desserts from Heidi Leuszler of Berries and Flour. Her luscious cakes made with local fruits, vegetables, and flowers may have not been part of the competition, but her chipotle chocolate cake with a sweet tomatillo inside was definitely the winner of my heart.
As the night came to a conclusion, winners of our raffle drawing went home with extra goodies, including one lucky winner of $580 cash from the 50/50 raffle prize. Over 90 people walked away with a bottle of something delicious—think wine, olive oil, honey from our bottle pull. Everyone went home with a full stomach and a night to remember. Our compliments to the chefs!