Elka Gilmore is the first, second and only grand prize winner of the California Seafood Challenge, a cooking competition for professional chefs.
Gilmore, chef-owner of Tumbleweed in Beverly Hills, won the initial challenge in 1987 and repeated that triumph in the 1988 contest, held last week in Los Angeles. Gilmore will now represent California in the America Seafood Challenge March 2-5 in Charleston, S.C. She placed second in that event last year.
Finishing second to Gilmore in the California contest was Todd Muir of The Restaurant at Madrona Manor, Healdsburg. Claude Segal of Four Oaks Restaurant in Los Angeles placed third. Other participants were Kenneth Chan of the Holiday Inn-Embarcadero, San Diego; Patrick Martin of Bentley's Seafood Grill and Oyster Bar in San Francisco, and Stephen Simmons of Casa Madrona Hotel and Restaurant, Sausalito.
The six chefs competed in the kitchens of Catherine-A Champagne Bistro. Contest rules called for each to present a signature dish and then to prepare an impromptu entree composed of ingredients chosen on the spot from a mystery box.
Gilmore's Southwestern-style signature plate reflected the theme of Tumbleweed and her own Texas roots. The plate featured a woven arrangement of John Dory strips and leek tops. This was placed atop a complex filling that included lobster, corn, cornmeal, cilantro, onion, celery and carrot. Two sauces, a lobster vinaigrette and a fresh corn sauce, lined the plate, and the dish was garnished with smoked lobster and spicy oyster shooters. To make the shooters, Gilmore fried cornmeal-dredged oysters and placed them in tiny tortilla cups lined with salsa.
The shooters are on the menu at Tumbleweed, and Gilmore says she may introduce the entire signature dish there in order to practice it for the national meet.
Todd Muir's signature entry was a striking Oriental-themed composition. Muir grouped whole spot prawns, a pale sole and scallop mousse and an arrangement of pea pods and thinly sliced vegetables. The prawns picked up Oriental flavor from a marinade of soy sauce, rice vinegar, garlic and peanut oil. Chinese-style fermented black beans dotted the underlying cream sauce, and Muir sprinkled the plate with his own brew of chile oil, which he seasoned with ginger, garlic and sesame as well as dried chiles.
In his signature plate, Claude Segal presented pepper-coated striped bass, diced sea scallops, sauteed Maui onions and small whole zucchini with flowers attached. The sauce included sea urchin butter, vinegar, fish stock and cilantro.
The California Fisheries Assn. was organizing sponsor of the competition, and Raimund Hofmeister, executive chef of the Century Plaza Hotel, headed the panel of judges.
The cook-off was private, but the competing chefs will demonstrate their signature dishes to onlookers at Sea Fare '88, an international seafood exposition to be held in Long Beach. The demonstration will take place February 18 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Long Beach Convention Center.