Daniel Scott Gorman, the 26-year-old Tournant chef at the Inn at Little Washington, took top honors in the national “2013 Best Young Chef” competition sponsored by the Confrerie de la Chaine des Rotisseurs.
Gorman, the Mid-Atlantic regional winner, competed against nine other regional winners from the U.S., Hawaii, Pacific Islands and the Caribbean Islands June 8 at the culinary school of Kendall College in Chicago.
Gorman received a crystal trophy, red-ribboned gold medal and a three year membership in the Chaine at an awards gala held that evening at the Trump Hotel in Chicago. He will now represent the U.S. in Istanbul, Turkey, on Sept. 6 at the International Jeunes Chefs Rotisseurs Competition, which typically brings together 24 of the world’s top young chefs from among the 80 member nations. The U.S. has won the international contest only once in its 36-year history — in 2011.
Chefs are judged on their culinary skills by a panel of distinguished chefs divided between food tasting and kitchen observation. Heinz Hofmann, Conseiller Culinaire et des Professionnels, Chaine des Rotisseurs, who served as general chairman for the Young Chef competition, provided insights into the judging process.
“The judges are looking for a clean presentation of a dish,” he remarked, “not overly ‘dressed up’ but still appealing to the eye, and savory or well seasoned. Being prepared properly to the right temperature is paramount. Other elements are innovativeness in the composition of the menu and the dish as well as the look of the plate.”
The national and international contests require competitors to plan, prepare and plate three courses in four hours using a mystery basket of ingredients as well as a typically stocked pantry of items provided during the contest. Ingredients in the mystery basket included ramps, beets, rhubarb, duck lake trout and Vermont maple syrup, all of which were required ingredients in the contestant’s menu.
For his menu, Gorman prepared an appetizer of crispy skin lake trout with trout and mushroom agnolotti, tomato butter and pickled ramp. His main course featured pan-roasted duck breast with potato duck hash, onion soubise, glazed beets and maple duck jus. For dessert, he paired flourless chocolate cake with rhubarb compote, rhubarb and strawberry granite, and drunken strawberries.
Gorman got off to a good start. “When I first received the mystery basket,” he said, “I was excited! I knew every ingredient in it, plus some were my favorites. I absolutely love ramps and trout. So right away I knew I was on the right path; however, I also knew I wanted more vegetables, which was the tricky part for me. In fact, the lack of vegetables from the par stock was probably my hardest challenge.”
Gorman approached his task systematically. “While going through my basket and the par stock list (basic vegetables, wines, dairy, berries, flours, etc), I quickly decided to cook the proteins simply and in a way that would highlight what they were. Then I determined which secondary ingredients would go best together. Trout and ramps are a perfect pair that I have been eating since I was 12. Duck, maple and beets are foods screaming to form a team. And for me, rhubarb is always best a little bit sweet. From that point on, I matched techniques that worked the best with each ingredient and that I was comfortable with . . . and a menu was born.
“For the appetizer,” Gorman explained, “I decided to do a crispy skin fish. For me it is the best way to enjoy the subtle yet great flavor of a freshwater fish while also achieving great texture. I knew I had to do something with the trim of the fish, and I love making and eating pasta, so I went with the agnolotti.
“Ramps are great many ways,” he observed, “but, to accompany the trout, I thought a pickle would cut through the rich sauce and a grilled leaf would bring an earthy tone to the dish. For me, duck, the entree, has to be pan roasted to get the true flavor. As for the hash, which is something I love to make for myself, it was a side component that I knew I had to do! Hash is a great way to achieve multiple textures, colors and taste in just a few bites. The flourless cake was a go-to, something that was great; and I could easily remember the exact recipe — plus, it’s yummy! And the rhubarb is a natural fit for me with strawberry.”
Gorman drew on not only his restaurant experience but also his home cooking to develop his dishes.
“The dishes I made were a melange of ideas and techniques of what I have made many places,” he commented. “I’ve been cooking the crispy skin trout since I was young at home. Glazed beets were one of the first competition veggies I mastered. The pasta recipe I honed when I won the American Culinary Federation National Young Chef of the Year. However, there is a lot of influence from the Inn [at Little Washington]. The soubise, tomato butter and the flourless chocolate cake are all things I do there . . . not to mention the plating style.”
Organization was an essential component of Gorman’s win. “When I’m preparing for a high-level national competition such as the Chaine’s of course I practice, practice, practice,” he said. “However, organization, time management and menu writing skills are just as important in competition as the food . . . without them, it’s hard to deliver,” he admitted.
“In my opinion, what set Daniel apart from the rest of the field were his organizational skills surrounding his workplace and the supreme cleanliness of his work,” said Heinz Hofmann. “His food was by far the most savory and balanced of all presented. His plates were clean and not overloaded, and his portioning was just right.
“Besides Daniel’s culinary talents,” Hofmann added, “he is an outstanding credit to our profession, and I am sure he is most valued by his well-known chef/owner Patrick O’Connell of the Inn at Little Washington in Virginia. Naturally, since he is their sous chef and second in command at this very famous restaurant and hotel, he is exposed to great training. He has an inner drive to excel and is already planning his training program with a variety of chefs he and his boss know to prepare for Istanbul.”