Scallops and goose, chickory and cranberry — all on the menu and all foraged at the fourth annual Local Wild Food Challenge, held Monday at the Rod and Gun Club.
The event has grown considerably since it was first started in 2010 by Bill and Sarah Manson of New Zealand. There are now six challenges around the world. Martha’s Vineyard and Maui are the two North American locations.
Everett Whiting of West Tisbury took home the grand prize with his dish of wild mallard duck breast glazed with a mix of Chilmark cranberries, Russian olives and local honey, served with grape wine gravy and fried wild onions. For a side dish, Mr. Whiting prepared Jerusalem artichokes with sauteed Chilmark chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms and West Tisbury watercress salad with crab apple and grape dressing.
Accompanying the meal was a brew of West Tisbury roast chickory and Chilmark hazelnuts with cream and local honey.
Tyler Gibson’s conch and scallop ceviche was first runner-up, while Emily Coulter and Jay Cuss’ dish of crispy frog legs served in switchgrass crust and topped with pumpkin, sassafras and Irish moss mousse was second runner-up. Ms. Coulter and Mr. Cuss also made venison sausage with chestnut and pear stuffing.
But not even frog legs were enough to clinch the coveted title of Wildest Ingredient, which has previously gone to dishes including black bear and squirrel. Lila Fischer of West Tisbury, earned that prize with her “Junk Food Gone Wild” dish.
Ms. Fischer prepared a smorgasbord of items, including fried ants, redroot pigweed, local grapes, burdock roots, dandelion, Jerusalem artichokes and wild carrot. She also made a wild sumac milkshake.
Harbor View Hotel executive chef Nathan Gould took home third runner-up with his dish of Vineyard goose served with chicken-of-the-woods agnolotti. Mr. Gould’s co-worker Nikolas Mastalerz earned Best Use of Local Ingredient with his Russian olive tart garnished with sassafrass root, acorns, and beauty berries.
Albert Lattanzi and Simo Saarimaa, the winner of last year’s Finnish Local Wild Food Challenge, sat on the judging panel, along with one of last year’s Vineyard grand prize winners, Dan Athearn. Dan’s wife and co-winner Meg was a judge for the new kids-only food challenge, as was Island Grown Schools coordinator Noli Taylor.
Madia Bellebuono of West Tisbury won the kids’ grand prize with her pan-seared venison and dumpling side dish. Madia also created an elderberry wine reduction and a dandelion, fig and wild greens salad garnished with bacon and homemade goat cheese. Schoolmate Violet Cabot was the runner-up with a dish of local watercress salad and candied black walnuts, wild grape sauce, local honey and bluefish pâté served on homemade acorn-walnut bread.
“These young chefs and wild foragers did an amazing, amazing job,” said master of ceremonies Jan Burhman. A cooking class with Ms. Burhman was the grand prize in the kids’ contest.
Waylon Sauer’s smoked bluefish and black bass fishcakes, served with leeks and potatoes with wild cranberry compote, won for Wildest Ingredient, and
Theo and Casey Webster collaborated on acorn cake and Russian olive custard for Best Effort.
Mrs. Athearn and Mrs. Taylor had so many excellent entries, they said, that they deliberated for more than an hour on winners, and ended up creating two new categories: Tastiest Snack and Wildest Breakfast Item.
Tastiest Snack went to Grace Manson and Tessa Hammond with their muffins made of Kousa dogwood berries and wild pear and served with goldenrod-infused butter.
Clara and Zeb Athearn’s yogurt parfait with autumn olives and wild hazelnuts earned Wildest Breakfast Item.
Mrs. Taylor said the judges were particularly impressed by the stories each young forager submitted about how they went about collecting and preparing their ingredients.
The story portion is also required of the adult competitors, as the story is often the most interesting ingredient of all. The Hemingway Award for Best Story went to David Joseph for his Bloody Martha’s rum with quahog broth, autumn olives and porcelain berries.
Still, every entrant had a tale to tell.
Michelle Manfredi of Vineyard Haven, for example, used sea salt harvested from Penikese Island harbor in her dish. Her cheese plate (made with yogurt cheese strained from Mermaid Farm yogurt) also featured one jam of autumn olive and cardamon and another of wild grapes, served on lavash bread made from hand-ground acorns.
Ms. Manfredi has entered the Local Wild Food Challenge since the very first year.
“It just brings together things I love,” Ms. Manfredi said. “Good food, creativity, design and the great outdoors.”
Other award categories at the Local Wild Food Challenge were Best Effort (Pete Gilligan and Kevin Brennan’s braised squirrel dish), Best from the Ocean (Mike Harmon’s shellfish en brodo served with North Atlantic cusk and watercress pesto), Best from the Land (Doug Werther’s crispy confit rabbit legs with puffball mushrooms and watercress), and Best on the Wing (Bobbi McLaughlin and JP Shepard’s pan-seared pigeon breast with acorn stuffing and dogwood vinaigrette).