King Cole Cannery Celebrity Chef Cook-Off a fun-filled evening

November 1, 2019
Last week, the Milton Historical Society hosted a benefit called the King Cole Cannery Celebrity Chef Cook-Off. Organizers and event sponsors assembled a terrific evening of music, food and fun-filled fundraising at the Covered Bridge Inn in Lewes. The expansive venue featured a huge courtyard and rustic-chic interior space.
As guests entered to collect their program and ticket to vote on the People’s Choice winner, they were greeted by live music from the Hot Sauce Band. Nearby, Irish Eyes offered complimentary cocktails, and the team from Dogfish Head’s Chesapeake & Maine served fresh-shucked oysters.
During the cocktail hour, guests took advantage of the opportunity to bid on the Silent Auction items and drop raffle tickets for a chance to win an array of gift baskets. We tried (but didn’t win) “everything but the cat,” a weekend getaway and a selection of fine wines, just to name a few.
Next on the agenda was the live auction. Sen. Dave Wilson of Wilson’s Auction reminded the bidders of the worthy cause as he auctioned several donated items, including a low-digit Delaware license tag and a beautiful electric guitar (with one free lesson). Bob Yesbek, the Rehoboth Foodie, served as master of ceremonies, introducing the chefs and the panel of judges.
As in previous years, the evening would produce two winners, a Critics’ Choice and a People’s Choice. I was joined at the critics’ table by several media personalities: Jeff Balk, morning host and manager of Radio Rehoboth, Mark Leishear of 47 ABC, Matt Pencek of WRDE Coast TV and Jake Smith, longtime host of “Delmarva Live” on WGMD.
And while all the bidding was happening, before the official start to the tasting was announced, folks started tasting. The chefs had been prepping their dishes since 6 p.m., and by now, the enticing aromas became too difficult to resist. While they were watching the silent auction, people slid from their seats and lined up for samples.
Once the official tasting began, I headed over to see Bill Clifton of the Counting House in Georgetown. His dish was a rich, creamy rabbit curry, garnished with diced local sweet potato and Clifton Farms lima beans served over black rice. The combination offered lovely flavors with a subtle heat. Bill sourced the rabbit (very high-quality, lean protein) from Gilstead Farm in Delaware.
Next I tried the innovative short rib tacos from Gilligan’s Executive Chef Jamie Parsons. Shredded meat was spooned over small taco squares spread with a butternut squash puree. Garnishes included goat cheese, toasted sunflower seeds and a lime juice-seasoned slaw to bring a mix of salty, sharp, sweet and crunchy.
I then went over to Two Meatballs (a newly established deli in Long Neck) where Vinnie Ercolino shared just a few of his secret ingredients: a mix of half pork and half beef, buttermilk as a tenderizer and “stuff I can’t tell my grandmother.” I found hints of fennel in the chunky tomato sauce garnished with snipped basil and shredded Parmesan.
My final taste was from Paul Cullen’s Kitchen, who likely included his custom-blended red wine and signature olive oil as ingredients. He offered generous servings of handmade pork sausage cooked in a spicy tomato sauce and ladled over creamy risotto. The texture of the sausage was smooth and dense with lots of flavor in the subtle seasonings. 
Choosing a winner from among the four dishes was quite difficult because they were so different from each other. Instead of trying to reach a consensus, those of us at the critics’ table ranked the dishes and used math to find a winner. Meanwhile, tickets were counted to learn which dish was the people’s favorite.
Before announcing the winners of the gift basket raffles, silent auctions and the celebrity chefs, we were treated to a delicious assortment of desserts – delicate cream puffs, apple cider doughnuts from Fifer Orchards and ice cream from Hopkins Farm Creamery. As you might imagine, this was the longest line of the evening.
Once the votes were tallied, the results diverged: the meatballs from Two Meatballs won the Critics’ Choice award, while Gilligan’s tacos won the People’s Choice. The one thing we all had in common was voting Bill Clifton’s Counting House rabbit dish as our second-place choice of the evening.
Now, as for recipes, this week there won’t be any. Instead, I would encourage you to support the various chefs and restaurants who gave so generously of their time, ingredients and skills to help raise money for the Milton Historical Society. Be sure to buy your ticket early so you don’t miss this fun event next year.
King Cole Cannery Celebrity Chef Cook-Off participants:
  • Bill Clifton, The Counting House Restaurant & Pub, 18 The Circle, Georgetown
  • Paul Cullen, Paul’s Kitchen, 32882 Cedar Grove Road, Lewes
  • Dogfish Head’s Chesapeake & Maine, 316 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach
  • Vinnie Ercolino, Two Meatballs, 36932 Silicato Drive, Millsboro
  • Hopkins Farm Creamery, 18186 Dairy Farm Road, Lewes
  • Irish Eyes, 105 Union St., Milton
  • Jamie Parsons, Gilligan’s Bar & Grill, Route 16, Milton.

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