Iron Fork competition crowns a winning chef and best bartender

The 2011 Iron Fork competition kicked off Thursday night with a bartender competition and finished off by crowning a new chef champion. Restaurants from all over the Twin Cities shared samples of their dishes at International Market Square in Minneapolis as guests sipped cocktails and glasses of wine from St. Croix Vineyards.

The bartenders competing were Jason Breezee of Wild Bill's in Maple Grove, Mark Miller from the Saloon, Christa Dahl from the Depot, Jason Defrietas of Liquor Lyle's, and Betsy Mowers from Poor Richard's Common House. 

Meanwhile, the chefs laying out their mise en place were Donald Gonzalez from Forepaugh's, Adam Vickerman from Cafe Levain,Joe Wuestenhagen of Hell's Kitchen, Jessica Becker of the Arts Institutes, and JD Fratzke of the Strip Club Meat and Fish.

So, who won?

The cocktail competition was particularly close, with the first round resulting in a tie. Breezee of Wild Bill's and Dahl of the Depot were forced into a shake-off. The mixers created an entirely new cocktail to break the tie. After another tough round of deliberations, the judges selected Christa Dahl as the winner.  Her cocktail combinations used fresh produce and herbs in addition to juice and vodka, giving her final drink a bright, tart edge that couldn't be beat.

Next, the secret ingredient was revealed. The chefs would compete with chilies, using the pantry items and produce all provided by Lunds and Byerly's.

Throughout the competition, emcees BT of Cities 97 and chef Seth Bixby-Daugherty kept the audience entertained and apprised of all the developments at the cooking stations.

Each chef's dish was as distinctive as the restaurants they represented. Chef Becker presented beautifully classic medium-rare beef. Chef Wuestenhagen's twisted noodles were made from black rice mixed into the pasta. Smoke from chef Gonzalez's smoked fish under glass wafted through the room. Chef Vickerman's deceptively simple chicken wove seasonal flavors through the chilies. Chef Fratzke's served habenero- infused pork tenderloin with a roasted poblano and corn Napoleon.

There could be only one champion, and this year's Iron Fork winner was JD Fratzke of the Strip Club Meat and Fish. His use of chili flavor in each component of his dish was cohesive, creative, and utterly divine.

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