Great State: Oklahoma Culinary Cook-Off

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A red curtain rose between them on a big stage revealing two, freshly killed, suckling pigs. Such was the challenge in this year's Oswalt Culinary Cook-Off. The final chefs from a two-day competition faced off. "It's very challenging," says chef Powell. "It's a game of wits."

A panel of food critics and fellow chefs sat in judgment. Spectators from the Oklahoma Restaurant Assoc.Convention crowded to see.

Chef Sullivan even brought a cheering section from Yukon. A half-dozen of them did the 'wave' a couple of times from the front row. Each chef had a student assistant, a pantry full of seasonings, a shelf full of pots, and all the heat they might need to cook.

Both gentlemen had been in this contest before, Powell in 2010. Sullivan won the cook-off four years ago. "Oh man. It's so much fun," he says. Judges looked at a number of different criteria: use of ingredients, creativity, presentation, even sanitation. They judged on taste too.

As the clock ticked and the fires burned both chefs agreed this kind of competition really got their juices flowing. Chef Sullivan says, "If you enjoy the pressure then it's not really pressure. It's kind of like playing and showing off." Chef Powell continues, "Your mind really starts racing and it's a matter of slowing down and controlling that so you can actually execute something."

At the end of the hour. Powell plated a peach glazed pork crepanette, Southwestern braised pork shoulder, potato puree, Napa cabbage ragu, and apple jicama slaw.

Sullivan served up mushrooms stuffed with bacon and pork belly, seared tenderloin, tenderized shoulder scalopini stuffed with wild mushrooms, gorgonzola mash potatoes, Thai egg plant rattatouie, served with a red wine reduction sauce and sprinkled with crispy belly fat.

So who did the judges pick? By a mere 11 points overall, Micheal Powell came out on top. Powell said, "You know I watched David  through all his heats this morning and I knew I certainly had my work cut out for me."

As first prize winner Powell received a silver cup and $3,000 in cash. Runner-up Sullivan got a check for $1,500. The rest walked away impressed and just a little hungry.

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