Winning is great at the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ingersoll, Tillsonburg and Area Battle of the Hors D'oeuvres, said Woodstock's Jed Lau from It's All About You Catering.
"But the cause is even better," said Lau, winner of the People's Choice Award Friday night at the Tillsonburg Community Centre.
The annual Battle of the Hors D'oeuvres and the Bid For Kids Sake silent auction kicked off the fundraising gala in the Lions Auditorium. Following the hors d'oeuvre tasting and judging, and presentation of People's Choice and Critics' Awards, nearly 200 ticket-holders were invited to participate in a live auction with local auctioneer Jared Pettman.
2014 People's Choice Awards
1. It's All About You Catering
2. Olde Bakery Cafe
3. Chrissy's Catering
2014 Critic Awards
1. Olde Bakery Cafe
2. Indigo Lounge
3. JP's BBQ and Catering
"So basically this was inspired by a trip I made to Nashville," said Lau, who got the idea for an Oxford Hot Brown from the Kentucky Hot Brown – an open-faced sandwich of turkey and/or ham and bacon, with Mornay sauce, baked/broiled until the bread is crisp and the sauce begins to brown. Lau had skillets on-site to heat the bread, and a small blow torch to melt cheese.
"Everything's local," he said, noting the ingredients included turkey, tomatoes, bacon, white wine sauce, Pinot Grigio, bread, and Five Brothers cheese from Gunn's Hill.
What put it over the top? Lau suggested it was the sauce, "It's all about the sauce, right?" Or the bacon. "Definitely, the bacon."Or the showmanship. "For sure," he smiled.
"I loved meeting the people," said Lau, who had participated in the hors d'oeuvre battle two years ago, but missed the 2013 event. "I met some old clients, and just had a lot of fun."
"Every year is great," said chef Matthew Taylor, head judge.
But he said the chefs definitely raised the bar in 2014.
The trio of guest judges picked Ingersoll's Olde Bakery Cafe with its Jazzy Apple Pear Bruschetta on Brown Buttered Biscotti for their Critics Award, edging second-place Indigo Lounge's Organic Thai Quinoa on Cucumber Cracker and third-place Beef Brisket Sliders by JP Mooney's JP's BBQ and Catering.
"Savoury," said Taylor, "but they made it work as a dessert."
"It's something we made for today," said Olde Bakery Cafe chef Kate Rine. "We wanted to do something fresh..."
"And it blends in the bakery," noted Kara Adams, who assisted Rine Friday evening.
"Very excited," said Kelly Spencer, owner of Indigo Lounge, who had won People's Choice awards in other years, but never a chef's Critic Award. "I'm excited by that."
Spencer's hors d'oeuvre was an Organic Thai Quinoa on Cucumber Cracker.
"Very fresh," she said, noting the organic quinoa with red cabbage, red bell pepper, red onion, carrot, green onions, edemame, cilantro, lime, and cashews with a dressing of grated fresh ginger, natural peanut butter, soy sauce, honey, red wine vinegar, sesame oil and olive oil.
Every hors d'oeuvre had winning potential Friday night, including Kelsey's Buffalo Chicken Potato Skins with cream cheese, mild sauce, chicken breast, shredded cheese, ranch dressing, green onion, cajun spices and potato skins.
Chrissy's Catering went with classic Sweety Pops, with sweet peppers, fresh herbs, and cream cheese in batter. JP's BBQ offered Beef Brisket Sliders with local Oxford beef rubbed with JP's signature spice blend, slowly smoked for 20 hours utilizing local hardwoods, and served on a fresh kaiser bun with barbecue au jus.
Funds raised Friday, which included ticket sales, table sponsors, silent and live auctions, as well as cash donations, a Secret Santa, and more, brought in nearly $31,000 for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ingersoll, Tillsonburg and Area.
"The auction donations were phenomenal this year," said executive director Deb Landon. "I think it's a very diverse collection of items."