Merry Graham of Newhall, California won the Third Annual Foster Farms Fresh Chicken Cooking Contest finals, held September 28, 2012 at the esteemed Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Greystone in Napa. A keen crowd of home cooks, supporters and press gathered in the heart of wine country as the annual harvest heated up with pickers laboring in vineyards and trucks rumbling down country lanes. A chilly fog gave way to bright blue sunny skies as six finalists bent over the flames of Viking stoves in the Williams Center for Flavor Discovery, exhibiting a calm exterior while surely feeling some butterflies as they executed their winning recipes for a panel of respected judges.
To get to the finals the six competitors won three regional semi-final competitions held in California, Washington and Oregon, the three states where Foster Farms distributes its fresh chicken. Nearly 1,200 recipes were initially submitted. After being tested in Foster Farms kitchens fifteen semi-finalists (five from each state) were selected to compete in the Regional Semi-Finals where they prepared their dishes for a panel of local judges. The six semi-finalists won $1,000 and a trip to Napa to compete at the finals, receiving travel and lodging.
Representing California were Jackie Dodd (Spice Rubbed Chicken Thighs with Chipotle Béarnaise and Avocado Lime Quinoa Salad) of Los Angeles and Merry Graham (Lemon-Hoisin Glazed Chicken on Roasted Asparagus and Cherry Sesame Rice) from Newhall. Oregon semi-finalists included Judith Berman Yamada (Cumin Chicken Paillards with Grape Tomatoes, Scallions and Wine) from Portland and Karen Bernards (Hoisin Chicken Thighs) of McMinnville. From Washington were Sandra Gray (Cherry and Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken With Merlot Scented Lentils) of Seattle and Rebecca Cameron (Tea Rubbed Chicken with Apple Spinach Salad & Spicy Nuts) of Bonney Lake.
Foster Farms started the cooking contest three years ago to promote the use of fresh chicken and the local, seasonal products that characterize the vibrant, flavorful melding pot of California cuisine.
Foster Farms, which has been family owned since 1939, distributes its fresh chicken from local ranches to retailers within 48 hours. There are over 100 ranches in California and 40 in the Pacific Northwest that supply Foster Farms chicken.
Foster Farms prides themselves on providing natural chicken free of hormones, steroids or artificial ingredients, and they enforce a strict code of ethics regarding the treatment of their flock. While not exactly free-range their chickens are raised in large climate-controlled barns where they can move around freely with continual access to food and fresh water.
Culinary Institute of America
The Foster Farms contest finals were held in the stone gatehouse on the historic Greystone campus. In 2005 the old gatehouse was transformed into the Williams Center for Flavor Discovery, thanks to a generous $1.5 million gift by Chuck Williams, founder of Williams-Sonoma and long-time supporter of aspiring chefs. The state-of-the-art facility fosters interaction between chefs and participants in an intimate setting with such bells and whistles as closed circuit in-kitchen cameras, a 40-seat dining room, a remote polling system, plasma TV monitors and large glass paneled doors into the kitchen so all the action can be followed. It was an ideal venue for the cookoff.
The CIA (which adopted the acronym before the government agency of the same initials) was founded in 1946 in Connecticut to train World War II veterans in the culinary arts. They have continued their long tradition of educating people about food in programs that range from 15” focused tastings, one hour cooking demonstrations, and single- and multi-day camps for the public to associate and bachelor’s degrees for professional chefs at their four modern campuses in Hyde Park, NY, San Antonio, TX, Singapore and Greystone in St. Helena, CA.
The panel of judges was comprised of a variety of Bay Area culinary personalities and included the following:
- John Ash-Cookbook author, owner of John Ash & Company restaurant in Santa Rosa and host of KSRO-AM “The Good Food Hour”.
- Lynne Char Bennett-Staff writer and test kitchen director the San Francisco Chronicle.
- Liam Mayclem-Host and producer of CBS 5 TVs “Eye on the Bay”.
- Ken Frank-Chef-owner of Michelin-rated La Toque restaurant in Napa
- Carolyn Jung-“Food Gal” blogger and previous food writer/editor for the San Jose Mercury News.
The judges based their picks based on taste, appearance, simplicity, originality and use of other fresh, local ingredients.
A smiling and excited Graham was selected as the overall winner by the judging panel for her preparation of Lemon-Hoisin Glazed Chicken on Roasted Asparagus and Cherry Sesame Rice. She won $10,000 and a year’s supply of Foster Farms chicken.
Last week, at 500 House Parties across the region, thousands of home chefs and their guests prepared and tasted the finalist dishes and voted for the People’s Choice Award. Bernards won the award for her Hoisin Chicken Thighs. She received a one year supply of Foster Farms chicken and a shopping spree at The Spice Islands® Marketplace at Greystone.
At this author’s table there was a consensus of three favorite dishes. Yamada’s Cumin Chicken Paillards with Grape Tomatoes, Scallions and Wine was spicy, full of complex flavors and looks easy to prepare—great for a weekday meal. Like the judges, we also enjoyed Graham’s Lemon-Hoisin Glazed Chicken on Roasted Asparagus and Cherry Sesame Rice with the dried-cherry sweetened rice counterbalancing the citrus and Hoisin flavors, and with the roasted asparagus it makes a complete meal. Gray’s Cherry and Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken With Merlot Scented Lentils had a couple of unique twists, pairing the sweet dried cherries with savory goat cheese and bread to make a flavorful stuffing, and wrapping the chicken in paper-thin slices of prosciutto, topping a bed of wine infused lentils.
The Winning Recipe
Lemon-Hoisin Glazed Chicken on Roasted Asparagus and Cherry Sesame Rice
Merry Graham, Newhall, CA
Serves 4 – 6
6 Foster Farms chicken thighs, boneless and skinless, cut into 1” chunks
2 ¼ tsp salt, divided
1 tbsp minced ginger root
4 cloves garlic, chopped, divided
3 tbsp peanut oil, divided
6 green onions, chopped, with whites and greens divided
1 1/2 cups jasmine rice, rinse well and drained
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup lemon juice, divided
2/3 cup dried cherries, chopped
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup Hoisin sauce
1 1/2 tbsp honey, divided
1 large lemon or two small, finely grate zest
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, divided
2 tsp black sesame seeds
1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2” pieces
1/2 cup chopped cilantro, divided
1/3 roasted salted almonds, roughly chopped
- Mix chicken, one teaspoon salt, ginger, and half of the garlic. Set aside.
- In medium saucepan over medium heat, warm one tablespoon peanut oil. Stir in onion whites, remaining garlic, and jasmine rice. Cook, stirring frequently, for 8 minutes or until beginning to toast. Add broth, half of the lemon juice and one teaspoon salt; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook 15 minutes. Uncover, fluff with fork, stir in dried cherries, sesame oil, and remaining green onions. Set aside.
- In large frying pan over medium high heat, warm one tablespoon peanut oil. Add chicken and cook, stirring frequently, for 6 minutes or until no longer pink on the outside.
- In small bowl, stir together vinegar, Hoisin, one tablespoon honey, remaining lemon juice, half of the lemon zest and 1/4-teaspoon red pepper flakes. Add sauce to chicken in pan and continue cooking for 10 additional minutes on medium. Raise heat to high and cook for 2-4 minutes until sauce on chicken is dark and has thickened. Sprinkle chicken with black sesame seeds. Remove pan from heat, set aside and keep warm.
- In second large frying pan, warm remaining peanut oil over high heat. Add asparagus, remaining honey, red pepper and remaining salt. Cook, stirring frequently, for 2-4 minutes, or until asparagus is tender.
- To serve, plate rice on serving platter. Top with half of the cilantro, almonds, and roasted asparagus, Top with chicken pieces. Sprinkle with remaining cilantro and lemon zest.
- Contest information and recipes from the three annual contests available on website.
- Follow Foster Farms on Twitter (#FFCooks) and Facebook to learn about next year’s contest, which usually opens in February and ends in June.
Culinary Institute of America at Greystone
2555 Main St.
St. Helena, CA 94574
To reach the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone from San Francisco by car (approximately 1 hour, 20 minutes depending on traffic):
- Take I-80 East to Hwy 37/Napa.
- Take Hwy 29 toward Napa.
- Stay on Hwy 29 for 30 miles
- Arrive at 2555 Main St.in St. Helena