Local cook dishes up victory at Iron Chef competition

BURLINGTON — A couple Fridays ago, veteran chef James Bachand of New Haven received a last minute request to whip up a delicious meal on short notice. While that’s not unusual for a professional like Bachand with more than three decades of experience in the kitchen, this request came with a twist.
This meal would be judged against dishes prepared by other professional chefs as part of a competition at an Iron Chef competition at the Reinhart Food Service annual trade show in Burlington.
Four days before the cook-off, a team of students from the New England Culinary Institute dropped out of the running, and organizers asked Bachand to step in.
“I figured, sure, I have Tuesday off — it’s not a problem,” he said.
For his trouble, Bachand coasted to victory at the competition last Tuesday and brought home a trophy and a large measure of kudos for his cooking prowess.
With an hour of cooking time and two required ingredients — ahi tuna and pork tenderloin — Bachand put together an appetizer of pan-blackened tuna over baby bok choy with brandy-pineapple butter, and an entrée of pan-seared pork tenderloin with brandied apples, with a side of creamer potatoes and rainbow Swiss chard steamed in a reduction of cream and butter.
His competitors were a team of two from One Federal restaurant in St. Albans and a duo from the Gypsy Café in Lincoln, N.H. Bachand, a chef at Greg’s Meat Market in Middlebury, headed up to Burlington solo.
Though he cooked all on his own, Bachand did have a cheering section in the audience — Woody Danforth, a former employer and the culinary arts instructor at the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center in Middlebury, brought a group of students to the show, and they watched the competition.
And though the opposing teams served up some delicious fare, Bachand won the competition single-handedly. His big secret?
“Simplicity,” he said. “The other teams had more people, but they were frantic.”
Each team had an hour to create four appetizer plates and four entrée plates for the judges, Alice Levitt and Corin Hirsch of Seven Daysand Sarah Tresser of Blodgett Ovens.
Bachand said the other culinary creations were creative — one was a pork tenderloin crusted with curried sesame seeds. But the judges opted for the simpler flavors of Bachand’s dishes, which garnered him a trophy, a gift basket from the Vermont Highland Cattle Company, and an invitation to defend his title at the competition next spring.
Before the event, the teams each had 50 minutes to shop through the food show for other ingredients. They were also allowed to bring ingredients like spices from home, provided that nothing was prepared beforehand.
For the meal, Bachand brought along his own brandy and cream from Monument Farms Dairy in Weybridge.
“I could have gotten Hood (cream) there, but I’m a Monument Farms guy,” he said.
Despite the strict time limit of the competition, Bachand said pulling everything together on time didn’t turn out to be an obstacle.
“After being a working chef, you have it in you to know your timing,” he said.
Bachand speaks from experience — he’s been working in area kitchens since 1975, from Christophe’s on the Green in Vergennes to Woody’s in Middlebury to a stint at the University of Vermont. In the year he’s worked at Greg’s Meat Market in Middlebury Bachand has broadened the store’s prepared food and catering offerings.
Even before he was cooking for customers, Bachand got his start in the kitchen with his grandmother at the age of five. But the jump from home cooking to professional cooking wasn’t as big as one might think — he had already learned to cook for a crowd.
“I grew up in a pretty large family,” he said.
Even as a professional chef, Bachand doesn’t take off his chef’s hat when he gets home. Because of that, he said his family is a little spoiled.
“They eat real food,” he said. “I love to bake bread, and I love anything made from scratch.”
Mostly, though, Bachand said he enjoys seeing the reception his cooking gets from those who eat it.
“I love the smile it puts on a person’s face when they enjoy something I make,” he said.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at andreas

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