The Sonoma County Harvest Fair Professional Food Competition drew fewer entrants this year for its annual taste-off of hundreds of local products, from bread and desserts to ice cream and olive oil.
But there were newcomers who rubbed shoulders with long-time participants such as Costeaux Bakery of Healdsburg, which took home the Best of Show award in Professional French Bread for its Sour Boule as well as the Sweepstakes Bread award and Best of Show Cake/Pastry for its decadent Truffle Cake.
The contest only drew one entrant in the normally crowded Appetizer & Hors d’Oeuvres category: Tacos El Pelon of Santa Rosa took home four top awards and two double golds, including Best of Show Appetizer for its Cheese Tamal topped with Beef Tongue.
To reflect the pandemic’s required pivots for restaurateurs and caterers, the competition added a new category this year for Shelter in Place (SIP) entrees and side dishes.
“We have tried to keep current with the times,” said Anne Vercelli, competition coordinator. “The chicken enchiladas (from Mangia!) won for the Best of Show (SIP) entree, and a new vendor was creative with pretzels (for Best of Show SIP side dish).”
Patricia Rohrer of Mangia! in Santa Rosa staffs a corporate cafeteria for The Viavi Solutions at 1405 Thunderbolt Way and also offers curbside pick-up for the public out of her catering kitchen there.
The chef, who has been in the food business for 18 years, said her Best of Show SIP entree of Chicken Enchiladas was smothered in two different sauces.
“It’s a little of the green sauce, because that’s what I enjoy, and it has the red sauce as well,” she said. “Then there’s cotija cheese, rotisserie chicken, Jack cheese and cilantro.”
For the competition as a whole, Rohre entered 14 items, most of them in the category of Cakes & Pastries. By winning the most points for her gold and double gold baked goods, she also took home the Sweepstakes award for Cakes & Pastries.
“Sometimes the Best of Show and the Sweepstakes winner are not the same,” Vercelli explained. “But the Sweepstakes means that they did very well on many of the products they entered.”
Costeaux Bakery of Healdsburg won Best of Show Cake/Pastry for its Chocolate Truffle Cake, and Sonoma Sauces and Sonoma Cake Creations of Santa Rosa won Best of Show Decorated Cake for a wedding cake made with a base of Vanilla Cake layered with Mango Pinot Gris Mousse and topped with buttercream frosting.
Rohrer’s gold-medal-winning desserts included a Fresh Fruit Tart and an Apple-Cranberry pie, which she considers her signature baked good.
“The tart is elegant and pretty,” she said. “But if I were to do a throwdown with Bobby Flay, it would be the pie. … It has Grand Marnier, orange zest and dried cranberries. It’s not the brown sugar, sugary apple pie. It’s more sophisticated and Sonoma County.”
Earlier in her career, Rohrner worked for Pearson & Co. in Santa Rosa, where she met her husband. She entered the harvest fair last year, and with this year’s success to buoy her, she plans to enter again next year.
Rohrer opened Mangia! in 2012. To order from her to-go menu of breakfast items, salads and sandwiches, go to mangiacaters.square.site or call 707-494-8563.
Pretzel logic for the pandemic
Clare Hulme of Wooden Petal in Santa Rosa moved to Santa Rosa five years ago from San Francisco, where she ran her own sandwich shop. She started catering here, while exploring the many facets of baking bread. A couple of years ago, she zeroed in on craft pretzels as her target product for pop-ups around the county.
“I was trying to figure out what my next move was,” she said. “I thought the pretzel idea was a good fit for breweries and wineries, and they’re versatile enough to keep me entertained. ”
In February, she started baking out of a small kitchen next to Dierk’s Parkside Cafe in Ssnta Rosa. Then in the midst of the pandemic, all her weddings and parties were canceled.
“I took a deep breath and decided to deliver to everyone who is stuck at home,” she said. “Now people are adding on my soups or my cinnamon pretzels.”
For the Harvest Fair competition, Hulme won Best of Show Shelter-in-Place Side Dish for an assortment of fresh-baked pretzels served with her signature cheese, mustard and spinach dips.
The box includes her three most popular flavors of mini pretzels (2 ounces each): sea salt, everything and cheddar cheese. That’s the same box her loyal customers often order for their families.
“If you want to crack open a few bottles of wine or beer, the adults go for the everything with the spinach dip,” she said. “The kids go for the sea salt.”
In the Bread category, Hulme also won Best of Show Specialty Bread for her Gravenstein Apple Pretzel topped with salted caramel, a seasonal pretzel she makes in a jumbo size (5 ounces).
“The product was excellent,” Vercelli said of the winning pretzel. “It was delicious, and the apples were cooked perfectly.”
Since Gravensteins are out of season now, Hulme started making a Pear Gorgonzola Pretzel with a Honey Drizzle. She soaks the pears first in Sonoma County chardonnay.
Delivery is free with a minimum order of $25, but customers can also opt for curbside pickup at the bakery.
She starts crafting them at 5 a.m. Wednesday and continues for the next five days, boiling, baking and cooling the pretzels. Delivery is from noon to 3 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Customers can pick up her pretzels at the bakery from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and from 10 a.m. to noon Friday through Sunday.
For a complete menu, go to woodenpetal.com. The bakery is located at 404 Santa Rosa Ave., at the blue door to the left of Dierk’s Parkside Cafe.
Awards reveal food trends
In the Individual dessert category, the Best of Show and Best Use of Local Products went to Chai’s Gourmet of Sonoma for a refreshing Lemon Hand Pie. Bert’s Desserts of Petaluma and Society Bakery and Cafe of Sebastopol both won Sweepstakes Dessert awards for the most points overall.
The Best of Show Cookie went to Society Bakery and Cafe of Sebastopol for a Gluten-Free White Chocolate Cherry cookie.
“That was the first time a gluten-free baked product got a big award,” Vercelli said. “The gluten-free products on the table did exceptionally well.”
Best of Show Candy was awarded to Eye Candy Chocolatier of Sebastopol for its Orange Tuaca Truffle, made from an Italian brandy liqueur flavored with vanilla and citrus.
Charcuterie, Deli & Pantry has become one of the largest categories, with 12 entrants vying for three top prizes by entering a wide range of sandwiches, salads, spices, pickles and preserves.
“We had some interesting sandwiches like fried chicken, veggie, tofu and a turkey club wrap,” Vercelli said. “The spices and seasonings are growing every year … and there were savory jams such as Habanero Peach and Pomegranate Pepper.”
Flugger’s Bacon of Santa Rosa snagged Best of Show Charcuterie/Deli with its No Sugar Bacon, which impressed the judges with its flavor and texture.
Chiligods Inc. of Healdsburg won Best of Show Pantry for its “Not So Mean Green” pepper sauce, a mild yet rich hot sauce bursting with flavor.
“The judges thought it was very well balanced,” Vercelli said. “It had heat with the acidity.”
The Sweepstakes prize in Deli/Charcuterie/Pantry went to Society Bakery and Cafe of Sebastopol, which won double gold awards for its Gravenstein Apple Butter, Mixed Berry Jam and Zinful Plum Jam, among other awards.
The growing category of Ice Cream included 23 entries — the most ever in the competition —and a wide variety of flavors, from chai latte and pistachio to Meyer lemon and cardamom.
Straus Family Creamery of Petaluma won Best of Show Ice Cream for its Organic Coffee Ice Cream.
The olive oil category was judged earlier in July, when the oil grown and produced in Sonoma County was a bit more fresh.
Dry Creek Olive Co, of Geyserville won Best of Show Olive Oil for its Mission Blend of California Mission and Manzanita olive varietals. It was just one of 14 olive oils entered by Dry Creek Olive Co. in categories that ranged from delicate and medium to robust, citrus and herb.
In addition to bragging rights, winners get to pick up ribbons and plaques, purchase medals and publicize their awards on their websites.
“I’m going to put my award-winning blurb on there tomorrow,” Rohrer said.
Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @dianepete56