WASHINGTON -- Two top Washington chefs fought a fierce battle at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic's Chef Challenge and the winner was – Puerto Rican rum.
To help kick off the tournament, Rums of Puerto Rico sponsored the "Chef Challenge." The competition pitted two award-winning Washington chefs who were required to create three dishes using Puerto Rican rum. The dishes were evaluated by a panel judges and sampled by the more than 250 tennis fans who attended the Challenge, which was held at the FitzGerald Tennis Center in Washington's Rock Creek Park during the opening night of the tournament.
"The Chef Challenge was a unique opportunity to show a Washington tennis audience the many unique ways Puerto Rican rums can be used for more than just cocktails," said Nicole J. Rodriguez, director of Rums of Puerto Rico. "The Challenge allowed us to go beyond traditional sponsorship of an event and show consumers how quality Puerto Rican rums can be used to give dishes an exciting new twist."
The Chef Challenge pitted Executive Chef Raynold Mendizabal of Lima against Executive Chef Roger Villalobos of Mio, two of Washington's top Latin-themed restaurants. The chefs were challenged to create an appetizer, main course and dessert using a different Puerto Rican brand of rum for each dish and matching it with a different rum-based cocktail. The chefs were required to use a DonQ brand rum, a Bacardi brand rum and Ron de Barrilito Three Star Rum.
Chef Villalobos' menu included:
Appetizer: sweet potato wrapped prawns served with cilantro sticky rice, mango carpaccio and watercress with a Bacardi orange drizzle paired with a Mio's Mangojito made with Bacardi Superior, mango, cilantro, mint and lime.
Main Course: a pan-seared duck breast with fried coconut polenta, duck powder and mache with a DonQ berries gastrique paired with a Mio's Mai-Tai made with DonQ Anejo and DonQ coconut, orange syrup and pineapple juice.
Desert: a rum chocolate parfait made with Barrilito Tres Estrallas, passion fruit cream, raspberries, black pepper and sesame tuiles paired with Cafe San Juan made with Barrilito Tres Estrellas, espresso cream, passion fruit juice and egg whites.
Chef Mendizabal's menu included:
Appetizer: striped bass "Tiradito" made with DonQ Coco, pina colada, cilantro and habanero peppers paired with a punch made with DonQ, cactus flower water, lime and orgeat.
Main Course: pork spare ribs made with Barrilito Tres Estrellas, guava glaze, grilled Yukon gold potatoes and chipotle mojo paired with Smoke, made with Barrilito Tres Estrellas, peach honey and a smoked peach nectar ice cube.
Desert: rum raisin rice pudding served with Bacardi and a mango salad paired with Bacardi, ginger syrup, banana syrup and lime.
The two chefs' work was evaluated by five judges: Mary Beth Albright, a Washington-based food writer and finalist in the 2011 "Food Network Star" reality show; Gigi Fernandez, Rums of Puerto Rico brand ambassador, winner of 17 Grand Slam tennis titles and member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame; Bob Madigan, "Man About Town" on WTOP-FM, the city's top-rated radio station; Ariel Otero, Rums of Puerto Rico ambassador and top San Juan mixologist; and Shannon Shaffer, executive chef of Design Cuisine, the food provider at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic and a top Washington caterer.
In a very close battle, the judges voted Chef Mendizabal the winner.
As the various dishes showed, rum takes on characteristics of the environment in which the sugarcane is grown and the liquor produced. Taste rum and you'll perceive notes of citrus, caramel, chocolate, apricots, banana or vanilla. As a result, Puerto Rican rums add sweetness and richness to a dish in a way that is far more complex than other alcohols, hold up better against strong ingredients and pair well with many different ingredients – from sweet to salty to spicy.
Puerto Rican rums are superior to other rums for three reasons: the Island's centuries old tradition of rum making; the legally-mandated, one-year aging in white oak barrels; and the Island's commitment to excellence. Puerto Rican rums are also produced using molasses, which ensures that Puerto Rican rums taste better compared to other rums that use only sugar cane juice and guarantees a quality product. The result: Puerto Rican rums comprise more than 70 percent of the rum sold in the United States and are the best-selling rums in the world.
"As part of our program to show that Puerto Rican rum makers simply do it better, we wanted to go beyond bars and restaurants and showcase our rums in a different environment," continued Rodriguez. "The organizers of the tournament presented us with an excellent opportunity to do something 'out of the box' in Washington, one of our key regional markets."
The Chef Challenge was one part of a multi-faceted sponsorship Rums of Puerto Rico had with the tournament. Rums of Puerto Rico also received signage at the event and sponsorship of the various bars throughout the Tennis Center. The Legg Mason Tennis Classic is one of the events that make up the prestigious Olympus U.S. Open Series of tournaments that precede the U.S. Open tournament in New York and showcases some of the top men's tennis players in the world.