The Martha’s Vineyard Local Wild Food Challenge Did Not Disappoint: Autumn Olives, Squirrel, Striper Roe & More

So, last week I wrote about the up-coming 3rd Annual MV Local Wild Food Challenge, and I have to admit that I was pretty excited to go to the event for a number of reasons, the location, the food, and of course the people.  Who would prepare what and what would be the wildest ingredient used in this year’s challenge?

MV Rod and Gun Club Martha's Vineyard Wild food Challenge HostsFirst of all, I was curious about what the Martha’s Vineyard Rod & Gun Club looked like.  I have to say it’s a nice place, roomy, lots of antlers on the wall of course (and in the chandelier), a large stone fireplace, and a million dollar view overlooking Sengekontacket Pond.

 I can see its members relaxing by the fire after shooting some clay pigeons with a nice scotch.  However, on the night of the challenge, there was no relaxing.  The place was jam packed with spectators and contestants.  The grills were a grilling and the food kept on coming.  Even though it was pouring rain, there were no dampened spirirts here!

There was a great mix of people including chefs, fishermen, farmers, home cooks, kids, and more.  Lots of familiar faces and lots of smiles indeed.  Thank goodness I knew a couple of people who were there.  A big thank you to my neighbors Scott & Kevin, and my friend Coral, who came to my rescue and bought me a couple of drinks, since I forgot my wallet.  I feel lucky to live in such a place.

The Tasting Table At Martha's Vineyard Wild Food ChallengeAfter I grabbed a drink, I headed to the tasting table.  I knew there would be some interesting bites there.  I was not disappointed.  Though I had come later than I hoped, there were still plenty of things to sample and explore and even vote on.

Of course there had to be a “People’s Choice,” and people were really into voting for their favs.  With 13 awards to be bestowed, with $8,000 in prizes and 47 entries, the judges, Bill Manson, Albert Lattanzi, and Hal Rayerson were going to have their work cut out for them.  Unfortunately, Christina Hook Leslie, a Wampanoag tribal elder, hurt her back and was not able to participate as a judge.

Best From The Ocean

John Duryea With His Winning Tuna Dish At Wild Food ChallengeLuckily, a number of the dishes I was able to try made it to the winner’s list.  I hope that I do the dishes justice, and I hope I inspire you to go to next year’s event.

My favorite dish of the night was the Torro Belly-strap Tuna with roasted Local Wild Food Challenge Chefs Grilling Awaytomato tapenade and orange zest gremolata, prepared by John Duryea.  Local Tuna has never tasted so good.  This particular dish I was actually able to sample soon as it came off the grill, lightly seared and melt in your mouth perfection.  I was stalking the fish a bit because it looked so beautiful.  I was glad to see that it won “Best From the Ocean.”

And the Grand Prize Goes To…..

Meg Athearn From Morning Glory Farm Grand Prize Winner Martha's Vineyard Wild Food ChallengeMeg Athern (Morning Glory Farm) won the Grand Prize.  She prepared some amazing, creative items including a salad with wild watercress with Katama grassland onions, steamed Jerusalem artichokes & candied sedge grass nuts with Autumn olive reduction.

Her entrée included Sedge Grass Nut encrusted venison sirloin on caramelized wild Katama grassland onions with beach plum reduction, Jerusalem artichoke puree, wild caught lobster and Quitsa scallops.  As if all of that was full of show-stoppers, she even had a drink — sassafras & local honey iced tea with Russian olive ice cubes — truly scrumptious.  To add to the fabulousness, Meg is pregnant, due next month and bringing home the Grand Prize – way to go Mama!

After reading those ingredients, perhaps you’re wondering what a Russian olive is.  Last night was the first time I had ever heard of Russian olives, also referred to as Autumn olives, which Chef Jan Buhrman calls them.  So, I am going with her on this.  

Autumn Olives are not really olives, but rather a sweet, tart berry that grows in the wild here in abundance.  They are delicious, and many of the cooks in the Local Wild Food Challenge used them.  Apparently you can just harvest them all over the Island.  If they’re ripe when you pick them, you can just pop them in your mouth.  I may need to learn more about these since my interest is truly piqued.  Anyhow, the Autumn olives in the iced cubes in the sassafras iced tea were tasty and refreshing.

Second Runner Up

Harbor View Hotel Chef Shaun Brian Sells Savoring His Local Wild Food Challenge FoodsThe team from the Harbor View had quite a spread there to sample, a Local Wild Surf and Turf  Charcuterie.  They won Second Runner-Up.  Every ingredient was from the Island.  Chef Shaun Brian Sells and his team pulled out all the stops.

Aside from the delicious venison loin with fig, goose pastrami, and cold smoked Striper, and more, there were some interesting things like Bass roe which apparently is quite rare and is a delicacy.  It is white and smooth, almost mousse-like.  Not really my thing, but I can appreciate it.  I preferred the more traditional scallop mousse they had.

I love that the Sea Beans used were harvested in the water down by the Edgartown Lighthouse.  They even made their own sea salt.  And just to add a little more sweetness to their spread, they made a lavender honey.  The lavender was from the gardens of the Harbor View, and the honey was from that little honey stand by the “blinking light” on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road.  The honey Chef Sells used was really good, so defintiely grab some next time you’re driving by.

Wildest Ingredient

Not to my surprise, Chef Chris Fisher prepared the dish that received the Wildest Ingedient Award.  He prepared a braised squirrel stuffed with puffball mushrooms, chestnuts and fennel.  It was served with a salad of Blueclaw crab, Hermit crab (who knew you’d want to cook with them), Whelks(snails) & fried Seaweed, Fennel Fronds, Watercress, Lemon sorrel & Lemon Juice.

Most Wild Ingredient - braised squirrel stuffed with puffball mushrooms, chestnuts and fennel from Chef Chris FisherThis dish I did not sample.  I appreciate the creativity and imagine it was delicious, since Chris made it, but I’ll leave that to the wild, local foodies.  Also, I have to thank Chuck Sullivan for this pic and his creative adaptation.

Ready for Next Year’s Challenge

The 3rd Annual Martha’s Vineyard Local Wild Food Challenge was an amazing success.  It was even more fun and more tasty than I could have hoped.  There was such creativity and such variety, and so many great people and friends there.

Every dish seemed to have an interesting story or came from an interesting source.  For expample,  Lattanzi’s smoked bluefish came from Island singer Johnny Hoy.  Fisherman by day, crooner by night – I love this place.  There were so many great things – I wish I could mention everyone and everything, but I am a little wordy as is.  Perhaps you can check out Local Wild Food Challenge’s website to get the full scoop.

Local Wild Food Challenege Judges Hard At Work On Martha's VineyardIt was great to see people so excited and be challenged to use wild, local ingredients.  The satisfaction many of the contestants had from catching their own scallops or rabbit, forging for their own honeysuckle or sassafras.  Such a talented group of cooks indeed.

A cookbook could be made from each event I bet.  It was a great experience for all.  I hope to see even more people enter and attend next year’s event.  However, I would be sad if they needed a bigger venue because the view is outstanding.

My calender is already marked for the 4th Wild Food Challenge next Columbus Day!  I almost forgot, the “People’s Choice Award” went to Liz Loucks for her Japenese Knotwood pie with white acorn crust.  Hmmm, perhaps I should see if I could make something like that with the Japenese Knotwood from my backyard, or I could leave it to the wild food pros.

Packed House At MV Rod & Gun Club For Martha's Vineyard Local Wild Food ChallengeThanks for reading On Point – I hope you enjoyed it.  You can find Local Wild Food Challenge on Facebook.  And speaking of social media, don’t forget to  “Like” us on Facebook, on follow us on TwitterLinked InPinterest and YouTube.

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3 thoughts on “The Martha’s Vineyard Local Wild Food Challenge Did Not Disappoint: Autumn Olives, Squirrel, Striper Roe & More”

  1. Sorry to have missed it! It’s a must for next year…..BTW, if you want some Russian Olive berries….we have a ton of them!

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