On Wednesday, the Limestone Pizza owner/executive chef will return to the fairground showdown not as a competitor but as a “culinary interpreter” a la Ted Allen in Food Network’s “Chopped.”
During the event, which is slated for 5 to 7:30 p.m., Martin will chat with competing chefs — Brad Brown, of the Bird Dog Bar in the Oread, Simon Bates of the Burger Stand, and Vaughn Good of Hank Charcuterie — about their culinary techniques, offering up tips on integrating seasonal, local ingredients in everyday meals.
As in years past, Wednesday’s competition — which is organized by Master Food Volunteers and Master Gardeners, both with the Douglas County Extension office — will spotlight a particular ingredient.
This year's star ingredient is eggplant, and chefs will use it, as well as other foods cultivated from local farms and school gardens, to create simple, fast dishes that anyone might recreate easily at home. And as in years past, any audience member whose taste buds need convincing can munch on samples.
It’s all about getting people excited about foods grown or produced right here in Douglas County, says Elizabeth Stewart, an at-large appointee of the Douglas County Food Policy Council, which sponsors the event.
“We’re really trying to appeal to a wide audience, ranging from your foodies to your hardcore cooks to busy families that don’t have a lot of time,” says Stewart, who hopes folks will be inspired to revisit the “misunderstood and misaligned” eggplant. There’s more to it than just eggplant Parmesan, she says.
With help from city mayors of Eudora, Baldwin City and Lecompton, competitors' dishes will be judged on taste, presentation, creativity and the all-important “applause-o-meter” from the audience.
The winner gets bragging rights and a plaque to hang in their restaurant, though all participating chefs will share their recipes from the event online, Stewart says.
You can stop by the Douglas County Fair’s fifth annual Chefs Challenge at 5 p.m. Wednesday south of the backdrop in the shelter area of the fairgrounds.
At the centerpiece of the soon-to-open Limestone Pizza Kitchen and Bar is a 20,000-pound, white-brick-on-the-inside, local-limestone-on-the-outside wood-fired oven that reaches 1,000 degrees and can cook a pizza in 90 seconds. This thing is a “behemoth,” Limestone says on its Facebook page, “but she’s gentle as a dove.”
And she needs a name.
Limestone, 814 Massachusetts St., is taking suggestions on its Facebook page now. They plan to choose 10 finalists then announce the winner when the restaurant opens, expected sometime in early April, executive chef and owner Rick Martin said.
Not only is the massive cylindrical oven a focal point of the restaurant, it’s key to creating the Neapolitan-style pizza Limestone will specialize in. The French fire-on-hearth (wood is burned inside the chamber right next to items being cooked) oven was installed and its exterior finished by local stone artist Karl Ramberg.
When it comes to picking the perfect name, Martin said, keep in mind that “we’re making a product that’s perceived as being authentic Italian, but we want to be very Kansas.” And in Italian tradition, ovens get female names. Last but not least is the hot factor. How hot? When I stopped by this afternoon, the inside of the oven was still hot — from a fire that burned out on Saturday.
Here’s a smattering of the 80-ish name suggestions Limestone has gotten so far: Aretha ("large and in charge and hot as hell”), She-Ra, Paytah ("Sioux name meaning fire”), Bernadette ("Or Burnadette”), Glinda ("after the good witch in OZ”), Elda ("Norse for Fire Woman”), Amelia, Pearl, Betty and, of course, Bertha. To add your own suggestion, go to Limestone's Facebook page.
Try something unusual or know of something interesting going on at a Lawrence restaurant? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me on Twitter @saramarieshep. For more local food and restaurant news, click here.