By Matthew P. Moll
A simple yet pleasing winter squash streusel pie reigned supreme at a recent Brooklyn culinary showdown – The Great Squash Cook-Off – at a vegan eatery in Park Slope. Since no animal products were allowed some of the 20 contestants morphed mainstay recipes into vegan hybrids for this “Iron Chef” inspired event at the V-Spot. A panel of four judges picked Courtney Walsh’s final course to be their tongues’ first choice. Judges rated the chefs’ creations on four criteria: taste, presentation, creative use of squash, and ease of preparation – so others can make the dish. Walsh’s winter squash streusel pie netted her the $200 grand prize. “I had about an hour to decide what I wanted to submit to the contest,” said Walsh, a librarian at New York University, where she is working on a project cataloging cookbooks. “It was a great challenge to find a vegan version of a classic pie.” Walsh, who has lived in Park Slope for about three years, modified her Thanksgiving pumpkin pie recipe to adhere to the contest rules, creating a squash dish fit for vegans. “The key for me was replacing pumpkin with squash,” Walsh said. In addition to the cash prize Walsh’s pie will be featured on the V-Spot’s dessert menu. “It’s amazing and scary at the same time,” Walsh said about her pie’s landing on the menu. “But I feel that this further validates my cooking. I get a lot of compliments for my pies.” Danny Carabano, the owner of the V-Spot, plans to put Walsh’s dessert on his menu within the next week. “Courtney made a great dish that is also easy to put together,” said Carabano. “We plan to highlight the item to let customers know it won the cook-off.” On the Food Network’s “Iron Chef” TV show, contestants are assigned one ingredient to serve as the basis of a gourmet meal. In, the cook-off contestants could use was any variation of winter squash, including acorn and butternut, among others. The entries were sampled and surveyed by the judges and an audience in three groups: appetizers and soups, entrees, and desserts. The judges included Kalalea, co-owner of Smooch, an organic restaurant in Fort Greene; Vikas Khanna, a restaurant consultant and owner; Abhaya Kaufman, who worked with Anna Lappe on the book Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic; and Isa Chandra Moskowitz, author of Vegan with a Vengeance. Kalalea said she knew which way judges were leaning based on how many times they refilled their plates. “You could tell right away what dishes people felt strongly about,” said Kalalea. “You just wanted more of it.” Walsh’s end product was a pleasant surprise for Kalalea. “I had no idea someone could make such a good pie with squash,” Kalalea said. The audience of about 50 people also chose its favorite dish by secret ballot. The votes tallied indicated that Andie Corso’s cider glazed squash with greens piqued the palates of the masses. “I had never made this dish without cream and cheese,” said Corso who teaches fifth grade at Achievement First in Crown Heights. “I just replaced the dairy with apple cider and it was vegan.” Corso, who lives in Prospect Heights, said she hones her culinary skills by cooking for co-workers and keeping stomachs happy at her family’s gatherings. “It’s great that people enjoyed the dish,” said Corso. “It was so nice to meet people who are so into cooking.” Corso plans to reinvest her $100 prize into her next kitchen creation. Sara Katz, who works as a cooking instructor for children a Bronx community garden, created a “New England Autumn Medley,” a main course, made with butternut squash, fresh spices, and apples. “All of the ingredients and spices were locally grown,” said Katz, who lives in Gowanus. “It is always great to see people so eager to cook locally.” Dan McDonald served the crowd his raw butternut squash spaghetti which contained fresh olives, sun dried tomato paste, and butternut squash. “Most of the food I like to eat is not this fun to prepare,” said McDonald. “I like to eat raw apples and pears. Some would say that is boring.” McDonald is a chef and health counselor at his company, True Radiant Health in Prospect Heights where adopting raw food is just one of the 10 steps to a healthy lifestyle he teaches to his clients. At the cook-off, amateur chefs gave impromptu cooking lessons and samplers appointed themselves food critics. “I don’t even think we needed prizes, to get people to come,” said Ameet Maturu, whose company, the Intuitive Cook, organized the event. “There was a lot of pride and heart put into these dishes and I think people were just eager to share that with other members of the community.” If you missed The Great Squash Cook-Off highlights and video interviews will be replayed on www.ifood.tv. Also visit www.cookinginbrooklyn.com for recipes and future events.