LaTisha Dismuke is a fan of the Food Network show “Chopped.”
On each episode, contestants prepare an appetizer, entree and dessert using the show’s ingredients—no matter how odd.
“Adaptability is a big deal,” noted Dismuke, owner of A Taste of Jazz, a Millsboror catering company that combines her culinary talent with her musical abilities. (She will play the saxophone on request.)
On Saturday, Sept. 16, the chef will leverage her love of the show at the annual Chef Throwdown Competition at the Southern Wine, Food & Music Festival.
Like “Chopped,” the contestants must use the provided ingredients to create a dish.
This year, the festival will take place at the scenic Nassau Valley Vineyard outside Lewes.
From noon to 3 p.m., guests will sample wine, spirits and small plates from beach-area restaurants.
However, one of the festival highlights is the battle between chefs, which this year pits Dismuke from the “South” against chef/restaurateur Melissa Ferraro from the “North.”
How SoDel Fest works
It’s the eighth year for the festival, which debuted at Independence, a Millsboro 55-plus community, in 2015.
While SoDel Fest attendees pause to watch the battle, participating restaurants and wine and beer purveyors keep plates and glasses full.
Guests can sample food from Dismuke’s A Taste of Jazz, Shorebreak Lodge, the new Lydia’s Grab & Go Bistro, Sydney’s Restaurant & Lounge, Seed Eatery, Drift, The Federal, Nectar, Big Fish Grill, J.R.’s Seafood Shack, Taste Events, Paul Cullen and Common Ground Hospitality.
As for music, the featured performers will be Kerry Hallett and Callum Toner, who is just 16.
Tickets are $150 each.
For the throwdown, chefs from Lewes have faced off against friendly competitors from Rehoboth. Male chefs have battled female chefs, and culinary wizards from the coast have challenged inland chefs.
However, this is the second time that organizer Stacy LaMotta decided to select contestants from Sussex and New Castle counties.
“We’ve come full circle,” said La Motta, who founded the festival. But this time, the regional rivalry features female chefs.
As in the past, Hari Cameron will choose the secret ingredients.
The Rehoboth chef is no stranger to competition. He has appeared on Netflix’s “Snack vs. Chef” and the Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay.”
Lewis “Drexel” Davison of the Rehoboth Beach salon Bad Hair Day? will be the master of ceremonies, and judges include Matt Kern of One Coastal in Fenwick, who has competed in the past, and Leah Rizzo, host of WRDE’s “Coast Life.” (Full disclosure: Pam George also will be a judge).
The right Chopped stuff
Although this year’s chefs are new to the competition, they feel comfortable with the challenge.
Ferraro, who owns Sonora Restaurant & Bar in Newark, crafts her menus based on what she feels like eating.
Indeed, there is a reason why her food truck is called Outlandish; she’s not about to follow the rules.
“I try to do something every month that scares me—that freaks me out,” said Ferraro, who recently choreographed a wine dinner to “The Wizard of Oz.” “I choose something that is technically difficult or something I’ve never done.”
Consequently, she said, she has developed a broad repertoire since graduating from the Art Institute of Philadelphia’s culinary program.
As a jazz musician, Dismuke is accustomed to improvisation, and her catering/personal chef business follows the same approach.
“Everything is better when you improvise,” maintained the chef, who often creates menus for people with multiple dietary restrictions.
Dismuke also teaches the culinary arts at Cape Henlopen High School, and her students have participated in “Chopped”-style contests as a learning tool.
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