They’d chewed through the conch ceviche. They’d done the pot-roasted homegrown rabbit with Vineyard apple and sage sauce over garden-dug fingerling potatoes. They’d downed beach plum jelly, beach plum syrup, beach plum soy aioli and beach plum compote on dishes sweet and savory, and even Concord grapes on a vindaloo.
By the time the 33rd and final entry in Monday’s Wild Food Challenge was placed before the tasting panel at DÃ©tente, the three judges were relieved to find it was a digestif.
After all the plates heaped with scallops, striped bass, quahaugs, venison, goose, hen and chicken of the wood mushroom tarts and toppings and stuffings, sea beans, crab brains Hollandaise (no one was sure about the brains), even snapping turtle stew, the judges surely needed an aid to digestion.
(And, yes, before anyone got their spoons in a twist, the judges made sure the snapping turtle’s taking was legal; it was an invasive, dangerous to fish in a stocked pond.)
Michelle Manfredi’s welcome aqua dolce was a cordial made of foraged rosa rugosa, Chappy honey, neutral spirits and time (vintage 2007, as she placed it).
The Rosa Selvaggia sweetwater took one of many special awards that private chef Billy Mason announced on his way to naming Dan Sauer winner of this inaugural Island wild cooking competition.
A whoop went up in the chock-full Edgartown restaurant when Mr. Sauer’s name was announced, and shouts of “We just came from up-Island!” from his damp and dripping supporters drowned out the description of his winning dish: wild goose breast with wild goose confit and chicken of the wood mushroom risotto. The caterer, farmer and former Outermost Inn chef’s feast also incorporated a puree of stinging nettles foraged from Chilmark, a gastrique of Russian olives found in Aquinnah, lemon sorrel for garnish; Mr. Sauer even harvested his own Aquinnah salt.
The chef’s claque, celebrating cheek by jowl, may be joining Mr. Sauer on the cocktail cruise catered by SoignÃ© that was his prize.
Feet in rubber boots and feet in tall, heeled leather boots inched back and forth in concert to make way for Scott Ehrlich, executive chef of the Sweet Life CafÃ©, to squeeze through the crowd and claim a case of pinot noir with his second-place dish. His mixed Sengekontacket bay scallops, East Beach bluefish, Lagoon Pond littleneck clams, smoked bluefish dashi, Morning Glory Farm corn, shitake and more — even an apple foraged from the Edgartown School. Scott Cummings’s juniper-rubbed venison saw him take home third place, six bottles of chardonnay and a large gift certificate to Edgartown Seafoods. Perhaps his menu at The Boathouse might in future feature kohlrabi terrine, raw dandelion or truffled salsify puree, some of the other ingredients in his entry.
“There were so many dishes so close to getting prizes, within point-five of a point,” said Billy Mason, who organized the challenge, something he also hosts in New Zealand. Kiwi-born Mr. Mason cooks in a private home here half the year and near Wellington the other half.
The dishes were presented without their cook’s identity, and judged — by Mr. Mason, Mr. Crowell and Island Grown Initiative’s Noli Taylor — on a combination of taste, presentation, effort and ingredients. “Some people came so close, but they might not have really described how they procured their ingredients, which counted equally, so the professional chefs would not have too big an advantage,” said Mr. Mason.
Too many seasoned chefs and caterers entered blind tasting to reward them all. But DÃ©tente owner Kevin Crowell said what he liked most was seeing so many people from different walks of life, from fishermen to fifth graders (yes, fifth and third-grade siblings entered Russian olive fruit leather rollups, accented by Island-grown mint), go plate-to-plate with the kitchen pros.
The turtle stew and venison chorizo won Albert Lattanzi a gong for “wildest” entry, while private chef and farmer Chris Fischer won most local ingredients, including goose and line-caught brook trout. Emily Fischer’s wild Island trifle — acorn cakes layered with sweet chÃ¨vre cream, beach plum jelly and autumn olive preserves served with sassafras tea — also got a mention.
The ebullient Mr. Mason said one of his favorites was Bennett Coffey’s Menemsha periwinkle escargot-style. “That one had me rapt,” he said.
Emcee Jan Buhrman singled out Crab Three Ways (crab tart with smoked apple sorbet, crab pot stickers with beach plum soy aioli and crab cake with brains Hollandaise, wild crabapple, beach plums, seawater and saffron foam) as another standout.
Other special mentions went to Mike Harmon, Jim O’Connor, Amy Paladino, John Searle, Nelson Sigelman, Alphonsus Simmons and Mike Winkelman.
Ms. Buhrman said there was already talk of moving to a tented location for next year’s challenge, to allow the event to expand. “We could have more ovens,” as well as more categories, she said.
“In enthusiasm, it compares very well,” Mr. Mason said of this first Martha’s Vineyard challenge vis-Ã -vis the more established Kiwi contest. “This one was a little more land-driven, with all the venison and geese. There, there’s always a lot of abalone and I guess a little more from the ocean.” Then again, it could just be that wind and drizzle made fresh fish a little harder to come by on Monday.
“But anyway, it’s the same idea, people will swap venison for abalone, or fish for some wild pig, whatever we’ve got,” Mr. Mason said. “In both places, it’s celebrating our luck for where we live.”