Cast Iron Cook-Off: The Dynamics; the Ongoing Mission

By Julie Perine on February 09, 2013


Another Cast Iron Cook Off has gone down in history, but the event’s initiatives are hardly on the back burner.

The Collaborative for the 21st Century Appalachia strives to promote the farm-to-table concept, improving health initiatives and boosting local economy.

Another major goal of the Cast Iron Cook-Off and other events sponsored by the Collaborative is to blend the concepts of agriculture and tourism, bettering our state and individual communities.

Bridgeport Conference Center is involved in that process on various levels and through the hosting of various events and venues, Bridgeport Farmers Market included. But most recently, BCC got on the farm-to-table bandwagon by hosting a team in the 8th Annual Cast Iron Cook-Off at The Greenbrier.

That involves more than gathering amateur chefs, said BCC Manager Scott Duarte, who provided a behind-the-scenes look on what is involved.

A Community Dinner, held at BCC several weeks ago, raised funds to be used toward event sponsorship and costs associated with team participation in the Cast Iron Cook-Off.

“Then, once you become a sponsor, it is your role to really go out and sell spots on your team as each participant has to make not only a personal commitment, but also a financial one,” Duarte said.

The Conference Center sought out individuals with interest in local foods and who shared enthusiasm for the event’s mission.

“Then came the menu planning and searching out local vendors who were interested in showcasing their products as part of that menu,” Duarte said.

Recipe building and equipment lists followed.

“We had to assemble timelines and schedule preparations,” Duarte said. “The competition has to be really super organized and things have to be planned down to the minute from start to finish. We had to know how long it takes to prepare the rabbit loin from standpoints of cleaning to cooking to preparing it on a plate for presentation.”

The physical act of getting to the event site with all food items, cooking vessels and utensils and garnishes – everything from tongs to plastic wrap to the salt & pepper – is yet another matter.

Once each competitive team planned its own signature menu and made all of its own preparations, it was show time.

That was also a major endeavor, said Debbie Workman, board member, Collaborative for the 21st Century Appalachia.

From hosting opening ceremonies to playing out each level of Cast Iron competition, much coordination was required – in the way of both time and supporters.

But from chefs' coating ceremony to the 600-person dine around which concluded Cast Iron festivities, it was successful, Workman said.

“I think this year’s Cast Iron Cook-Off was successful in two major ways, one being the addition of the Intrastate Super Bowl competition – a higher level of competition between West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. That was a huge draw. And the other was the amount of attention we got from the general public – people coming in to see the events last Saturday.”

In addition to guests of The Greenbrier who were at the resort for Cast Iron activities, others meandered in and out of the competition area and were enlightened about the Collaborative and its initiatives. Anticipating that, guides were on hand to show guests around the competition area.

Adding another level of education with regard to the tourism aspect is a colloquium/workshop which took place simultaneously at The Greenbrier, bringing in tourism professionals from throughout the East Coast, Workman said.

“Information was shared on how to promote tourism in their areas and how to even host their own Cast Iron events,” she said.  “We were able to take some of the tourism professionals on tours throughout the competition area and get into the nuts and bolts of how they can incorporate the ideas in their states.”

In addition to grand champion cooking teams in each of the three divisions of competition, a Pioneer Award was earned by West Virginia businessman, Jim Justice, owner of The Greenbrier.

“The Collaborative gives this award to the person they deem had the most positive impact on West Virginia tourism and that was Jim Justice this year,” Workman said.
Editor's Note: Photos - on cover and in gallery below - by Dee Johnson


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