The winners of this year's 5th annual Pick-a-Dish fundraiser for Horizons. The event was held at the Clarion Inn  and paired Horizon's chefs with nine area restaurants.

Photo by Sasha Nelson

The winners of this year's 5th annual Pick-a-Dish fundraiser for Horizons. The event was held at the Clarion Inn and paired Horizon's chefs with nine area restaurants.

Sasha Nelson: Judging Horizons' Pick-a-Dish reminds that best food comes from the heart

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— I love food. Growing up, I was surrounded by great cooks: my grandmother, Shirley Nelson, worked at Craig’s historic Cosgriff Hotel and Golden Cavvy restaurants and my father, Rick Nelson, was the food and beverage director for Steamboat Ski Corps and a chef at the Sheraton Inn in Steamboat Springs.

photo

Sasha Nelson

I didn’t inherent their talent. In fact, my ineptitude in the kitchen is family legend. My notoriety as a poor cook is also well deserved since I’ve managed to start a few fires in the kitchen and rarely cook without spilling something, breaking something or cutting myself.

But I love food. So I keep trying to cook and I’m nice to people willing to feed me. I also have an unhealthy obsession with TV cooking shows.

Watching those shows has made me wonder what it would be like to judge a cooking competition. Thursday evening, I got my chance as a judge for the fifth annual Horizons Specialized Services Pick-a-Dish contest and fundraiser.

The popular TV show “Iron Chef” was the inspiration behind the development of the fundraiser that also provides individuals with developmental disabilities the opportunity to learn life skills while working with restaurant professionals.

Let me tell you, in addition to being an honor and super fun, judging is also hard work.

Sitting in front of a room full of people trying to eat without spilling, slurping, burping or putting elbows on the table requires fortitude, as does eating meals from nine restaurants in less than two hours.

Fortunately, I was seated beside Dr. John Hamilton. He told me to pace myself and not to score the dishes too high right away. I was comforted by the idea that if my gluttony went too far there would be a doctor nearby to revive me from a food coma.

I arrived hungry and when the first dish was placed in front of me and the yummy aroma hit my nose, I knew I was in trouble. I had to forcibly stop myself before I licked the plate clean in front of the hundreds of people filling the Clarion Inn & Suites.

The dish of Chiles en Nogcida offered a green poblano pepper stuffed with meat, fruit and spices coated in a creamy walnut sauce and finished with red pomegranate seeds. The colors are meant to represent the red, green and white of the Mexican flag. It was heavenly and was soon followed by dish after dish of comfort food.

The very best food is served with heart from the heart.

As each plate arrived, I had the pleasure of meeting a hardworking professional chef that gave their product, their time and their expertise to teach Horizons chefs how to cook an award-winning meal. The food filled my tummy, and the huge smiles on the faces of the Horizons cooks filled my heart.

Adding entertainment value to the event, new Craig Mayor John Ponikvar emceed, helping the crowd cheer judges and chefs. And the John Wayne Band played tunes for over two hours.

This year’s judges included Judge Sandra Gardner, Dr. John Hamilton, Moffat County School District Superintendent Dave Ulrich, Community Budget Center Director Karen Brown and Craig Boys & Girls Club Executive Director Dana Duran.

Competition Winners

Judge's Choice Awards:

• First Place — Chefs Joe Belcher and Jeremy Gohr cooked lasagna with Gino’s Neighborhood Pizzeria and Grill

• Second Place — Chefs Roy Nunez and Bobby Holmberg cooked Chiles en Nogcida with Vallarta’s

• Third Place — Chefs Jamie Ogden and Julianne Malley cooked lasagna soup and chocolate brownies with Kassie Vesely of KS Kreations

• Honorable Mention — Chefs Catherine Eye and Melinda Orr cooked venison chili with the Elk Mountain Restaurant

People’s Choice Awards:

• First Place — Chefs Kelly Hatten and Jason Latham cooked pulled pork sliders and spicy baked beans with Hatten Enterprises

• Second Place — Vallarta’s

• Third Place — KS Kreations

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @CDP_Education.

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