Local food and local chefs are in the spotlight as the Golden Basket cooking competition returns from a two-year hiatus with a new format.
Four qualifying rounds at area farmers markets that kicked off this past weekend will culminate in the Golden Basket Finals from 4-9 p.m. on Saturday at the MLK Plaza on Fraser Street in State College, featuring a "Chopped"-style competition, live music and, of course, plenty of delicious local food.
Presented by Centre County farmers markets network Centre Markets, the new nonprofit local food hub Appalachian Food Works, and Downtown State College Improvement District, proceeds from Saturday's event will benefit App Food Works' efforts to connect local farmers and consumers.
"We really want people to make that connection between where that food comes from and how it ends up on their plate," said App Food Works founder Travis Lesser. "That’s the real purpose of this event, though it is nice that we’re hopefully able to get some proceeds so that we can scale up and become fully operational here before long. It’s also a way to bring the community together and really shine a light on the people you don’t see much: the farmers and the chefs. You don’t see the farmers doing the work and you don’t usually see the chefs back in the kitchen when you go out to eat at night.
"We’re really trying to ramp up our local food scene and focus on the broader ecosystem here literally from farm to plate."
Tickets for Saturday's finals are $25 and are available in advance online or at the event, if they don't sell out.
The first qualifying round was held on July 27 at the North Atherton Farmers Market, where Flavia Barger, of Brazilian Munchies, narrowly beat out Thomas Novasell, Jr., of Happy Valley Chef, to claim one of four finalists spots on Saturday.
The other three finalists will be chosen by market-goer voting on Tuesday at the Boalsburg Farmers Market (Pennsylvania Military Museum); Thursday at the Pine Grove Mills Farmers Market (St. Paul's Lutheran Church); and Friday at the Downtown State College Farmers Market (Locust Lane). Each of the qualifying competitions will be 3:30-4:30 p.m. and will feature three chefs.
Flavia Barger, of Brazilian Munchies, won the first finalist spot for the 2019 Golden Basket cooking competition. Photo via Appalachian Food Works
Starting at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, the four finalists will have 40 minutes to plate starter and entrée courses from a box of ingredients that they won't see until the clock starts. A panel of three judges will then have 10 minutes to deliberate and choose this year's Golden Basket winner.
Judges for the final will be Provisions Magazine editor Maggie Anderson, local chef Mark Johnson and community member Bill Asbury, who is a Kansas City Barbecue Society certified judge.
"They all know what good food is supposed to taste like and look like, and they all are very experienced with what that local aspect means in different ways," Lesser said.
Each ticket to Saturday's final includes food from State College restaurants and other local vendors. Spats at the Grill will have ratatouille, Webster's Bookstore and Cafe will serve cabbage dumplings, and Federal Taphouse will offer brisket sliders.
All of the food in both the competition and being offered by the restaurants will be locally-sourced from local vendors, Lesser said.
Mount NitaNee Kombucha, Gemelli Bakers pretzels and Revival Kitchen popcorn are also included in the ticket price. Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks will have beer for sale.
The music lineup, courtesy of Band Junkies, includes three local, up-and-coming acts: Matt Jacobs, William Ryan, and Donny Burns and Nick Stahlman of Donny Burns & the 3rd Degree. Cooking demonstrations will take place in between the performances.
In the event of inclement weather, Saturday's finals will be held at 3 Dots Downtown, 137 E. Beaver Ave.
Lesser said the revival of the Golden Basket was "serendipitous." He had already been approached by Brad Groznik of Groznik PR about working on a summer food event downtown when he stopped by to visit his friend Bob Ricketts, president of the North Atherton Farmers Market and owner of Fasta & Ravioli Co. He mentioned it to Ricketts, who said he had been thinking about bringing back the Golden Basket.
"At that moment a big piece of paper came out and we started drawing it out," Lesser said. "By the end of the conversation we had semi-planned for it."
Now Lesser hopes that this year's new-format Golden Basket is just the start of something bigger.
"We’re hoping to build this into something larger next year and some conversations are already happening along those lines," he said. "In order to really make an impression we need the whole community involved. It would be really great to see some people I haven’t seen in a while downtown on Saturday."