It’s time for the 3rd Annual Local Wild Food Challenge!
What is this you may wonder? Well, I really did not know, but wanted to find out. I had no idea what to expect when I was meeting the event founder Chef Bill Manson. Was he going to be a burly hunter, a salty fisherman, or perhaps a quiet farmer?
The answer, none of the above. Bill is a smiling, great guy from New Zealand, who is excited about cooking with wild food. And yes, he does have that amazing accent. Bill is a private chef who splits his time between Martha’s Vineyard and New Zealand.
Loving the people and the land of both Islands, Bill came up with the idea to have a sort of cook off/contest with who could make the best dish prepared with local ingredients. By local, I mean SOURCE your ingredients whether it’s fishing, foraging, hunting, diving, walking, whatever you need to do to find the ingredients. HARVEST that item(s). Next, PREP your dish, and then violá, you are ready to enter the Local Wild Food Challenge.
The first Local Wild Food Challenge was held in 2008, in New Zealand at a local fav tavern, the Lifeboat. The were a couple of prizes, nothing big. Much to Bill’s surprise, it was a huge success. The whole community got involved. There were people from all walks of life, and it was an event that really helped bring people together and raise awareness of the amazing local food sources available.
Food Challenge Comes To MV
How did The Challenge get to Martha’s Vineyard? Well, besides the connection Bill has to the Island, chef Kevin Crowell, from Detente, is friends with Bill, and was actually a judge at the first challenge in New Zealand.
Both chefs love the Vineyard, like to cook with local ingredients, and know lots of folks who like to do the same and have fun, so it was an obvious decision to bring it to this island. Now in its third year, it has grown in popularity and become more fun with more prizes, including cases of wine, sailing trips, and more.
But, it’s really not about the prizes, it’s about the freedom and challenge to create something unique from our local resources. Also, the event is held at the MV Rod and Gun Club – which would be fun to have the opportunity to check out. I have always been curious about what it’s like, and this is a good reason to go.
Can it be that easy? Yes it is. From venison to sea urchin to fresh water clams to cicadas to blackberries, if it is edible, found in the wild and local, and you can make it taste good, go for it. The sky’s the limit, especially for those using fowl. Sorry, I thought that was funny.
What, hunting season doesn’t start for a couple more weeks? No problem, grab the meat sitting in your freezer from last year. The rules are not that stringent and are not meant to discourage you from entering, but rather encourage you. As Bill says, “It’s about celebrating where you live, having fun and cooking with your mates.”
Bill is not just about using local, wild ingredients in these contests or for show, he incorporates items into his daily cooking. He is a strong believer that if you use the land, you’ll have a deeper respect and understanding of it. There is a joy he gets from gathering ingredients for his food.
Some of his favorite things from MV include Sea Beans. He says it’s the perfect snack to have with beer, salty and crunchy, and super healthy. He gathers seaweed from Squibby, and likes to use use the easy to get Scup over Bass (Scup is typically used as bait for Bass), but Bill says it is sweet and flaky and delicious. Perhaps there will be some at the challenge this year?
This is not your typical “challenge.” The Local Wild Food Challenge is meant to help people celebrate the bounty of food available from nature, and here we are lucky we have lots to choose from.
It’s open to amateurs and professional cooks, hunters, farmers, fishermen, men and women – no discrimination as long as the local component is there. From the oldest contestant to enter, 74, to the youngest contestant, 4, it is for everyone. Haven’t entered yet, no problem, visit their website or just show up the day of.
It doesn’t even have to be food. It can be a beverage. Bill has had vodka made from Kawka trees. The more creative, the more points. Last year on the Vineyard, Michelle Manfredi won for her Sweet Bitters Liqueur. The more local ingredients, the more points. Really the point is to have fun, and enjoy the event. Bill is always surprised.
Yes, next to you may be Chef Christian Thornton of Hooked or Chef Chris Fisher, but don’t you worry. There are several categories to be judged in, Grand Prize, First and Second Place, Wildest ingredient (not weird and gross but how something wild can be incorporated into daily lives), Best Effort, The Hemingway (each participant is encouraged to write a story about their dish), and of course Kid’s Dish. This is a “culinary adventure challenge.”
To make it even more fair, the dishes are numbered, the judges have no idea who created them. It is anonymous which should curb some people’s hesitancy about entering. The judges include local connoisseurs Hal Rayerson (last year’s challenge Grand Prize Winner), Kristina Hook Leslie (forager & cook), Albert Lattanzi, from Lattanzi’s, and of course, Bill. Should prove to be interesting.
Everywhere Bill goes with this event, he finds the same enthusiasm for this type of cooking. There is such a celebration, especially in small communities, in using wild ingredients, being a part of getting your own food, enjoying the land. His goal with these events is to inspire awareness and an appreciation for what’s in you own back yard.
To enter, no reason not to, or find out more, check out the Wild Food Challenge website. I hope to see lots of familiar faces at the event, Monday, October 8th. It starts at 3 p.m., and the judging will happen around 6 p.m. There will be beverages to enjoy, and a lot of laughs and a lot of great, creative food. Also, I’ll be doing a follow-up post about this year’s event.
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