Whisk and Quill was delighted to accept an invitation to attend the 90th running of the Virginia Gold Cup last weekend in The Plains, Virginia, as a judge for their prestigious tailgate competition – a hard-fought and entirely subjectively-judged contest pitting talented and sophisticated entrants against those of the same stylish stripe. The competition for this blue ribbon event was sponsored by the Silver Diner ( See my previous article on Silver Diner ), who kindly sent one of their chefs, Chris Hiller, to join us in our efforts.
For the first time in 25 years, I abandoned my own well-heeled guests for three-and-a-half hours to swan around the rolling hillside lapping up bourbon cocktails, swooning over caramel cake and taste-testing an exotic Indian biryani. I swear on the memory of my beloved Brazilian horse, Beija-Flor, it felt like I ran the length and breadth of the entire steeplechase course…though gratefully it was devoid of any water or brush jumps, and more to the point, I did not have to wear a saddle.
The main parameters were that the offerings be homemade, and that the entire tailgate set-up should reflect a theme. Unfortunately some of the unnamed entrants had chosen to scoff at the memo. Our four judges were astounded to see Costco cookies and sandwiches, still in their plastic tubs, side-by-side with veggies and dip from the local Safeway. May the saints preserve us! And may the best horse win.
For the most part these concepts were highly original. Some were delightfully equine-themed. The “Bee Calm and Carry On” group had little bees on everything – – from cupcakes to a honeyed bee skep cake. The hostess was eager to point out that all offerings included at least some honey, including the Honey Punch and the whiskey bourbon shooters. Yes, whiskey and bourbon combined – – a delicious, if not incendiary, alternative to cough medicine. The ladies were attired in yellow and black, some striped, and host Eddie Batten was gotten up in a tan beekeeper’s suit complete with antique fogger.
“A Trip Around the World” welcomed us with ‘passports’ – – a printed menu of the afternoon’s delights. Cutouts of the Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal and Statue of Liberty adorned the table and we found Greek, Indian, French and German influenced dishes prepared by local private chef, Shanti Williams of Ruther Glen, Virginia whose Duck Confit Sliders with Cranberry Jam and Fennel & Celery Root Slaw were an especially big hit.
Sylvia Sosa chose “Pink & Green” as her theme and carried it out to the nth degree with horsey cut-out sandwiches sporting pink saddles tied with bakery twine and cupcakes decorated with horseheads and horseshoes. It certainly was one of the prettiest tables we visited.
Jen Dominick brought Tiffany’s from city to country with an Audrey Hepburn cutout gracing a 20-foot table. Guests clad in classic Tiffany-colored turquoise and white apparel drank from silver mint julep cups (plastic, but very chic nonetheless). Her bespoke parting gifts for guests were tiny chocolates in precious blue boxes with white satin ribbons. It was all very posh, don’t you know.
Two competitors stole the show. Hostess Karen Gilbert of “Crystal Horseshoes” who served the most amazingly tender short ribs, “fully loaded” potato salad and super divine sandwich on a roll with her Hot Brown Sliders; and Jackie Deschamps who rocked a “50 Shades” theme.
Jackie’s choice of a fabulous shocking pink-and-black color theme coupled with sumptuous food – – poached salmon with hollandaise, shrimp kabobs, and an assortment of delicious homemade cakes – – matched the charming hospitality and elegant demeanor she and her guests showered upon us. It may be true that we were influenced by such niceties as offering up a welcoming chair, personally serving us separate plates for entrees and desserts, and bringing round a refreshing drink, if only for the three minutes we allowed for our “I-hate-to-eat-and-run” visits.
Racing around over hill and dale, like horses navigating jumps on a steeplechase course, we managed to visit all twelve competitors. We tasted and sipped, chatted up strangers and debated the merits of the competitors; coming up with the premise that, when every last little thing was taken into account, it was all about homemade fare, a soupçon of creativity and old-fashioned, heartfelt Southern hospitality. We are in Virginia after all.
In the end it was a photo finish, with “50 Shades” leading by a nose, followed by “Crystal Horseshoes”, who had driven 100 miles round trip to find their tabletop white horse, and “A Trip Around the World”, coming away with a very respectable third.
Thanks go out to each and every competitor. See you in the fall when we’ll do it all over again on October 4th.
Kentucky Hot Brown Sliders – from The Seasoned Mom
1 package of King’s Hawaiian Sweet Rolls (split)
¼ cup of mayonnaise
12 slices of deli turkey
12 pieces of cooked bacon
6 slices of Gruyere cheese
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup canned pimientos (diced)
½ cup butter (cubed)
2 Tbsp. finely chopped onion
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 ½ Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp. garlic powder
Spread mayonnaise on the roll bottoms. Layer with turkey, bacon, a few bits of pimiento and both cheeses. Replace tops. Arrange sandwiches in one layer in a greased 9-inch-square baking pan. In a small skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring for one to two minutes, until tender. Whisk in brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce and garlic powder. Continue whisking until sugar is dissolved. Pour butter sauce over sandwiches.
Cover with foil and refrigerate for several hours. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake covered for 25 minutes. Remove cover and bake for an additional 5 minutes or until nicely browned.
Honey Punch – adapted from the Food Network
Dissolve ½ cup honey in ½ cup boiling water. Let cool, then pour into a pitcher. Add the juice of 2 lemons, 2 cups of apricot or peach nectar, and 1 cup of vodka, gin, bourbon or whiskey. Chill. Before serving add a bottle of chilled sparkling apple cider (Try the all-natural ‘Alpenglow’, made in Virginia from Shenandoah Valley apples.) and float lemon slices in the pitcher.
All photos by Jordan Wright.
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