The Food Guy: WV food (and The Food Guy) are having a moment

SAM OWENS | Gazette-Mail
Strawberry tarts with Grand Marnier glaze made by Zach Davis of Fannie’s Sweet Confections in Huntington sit on a display table during last year’s Sweet Charity competition and fundraiser at the Columbia Pipeline Auditorium in Charleston. The dessert won the Taste award given by the judges.
SAM OWENS | Gazette-Mail
Samples of the Apple Pie Met Cheesecake from Country Rhodes Bed & Breakfast in Ripley made for a striking visual presentation at the 2016 Sweet Charity competition.
SAM OWENS | Gazette-Mail
Macarons, French sweet meringue-based confections, are displayed at the Sugar Pie Bakery table during last year’s Sweet Charity competition and fundraiser at the Columbia Pipeline Auditorium in Charleston. Sugar Pie Bakery won the Presentation award.

OMG, I’m on the Food Network! Not the popular national TV channel (it’s at this point in the story where my kids immediately lose interest) but I’ve been officially published on FoodNetwork.com.

You may remember the Food Network recruited me last fall to write up a story on West Virginia’s most iconic foods and dishes, along with the best places to try each one. My recommendations went live this past week, complete with a photo gallery showcasing each food or dish featured — many of those shots taken by former Daily Mail life editor Billy Wolfe.

I’m honored to have been given such a prominent platform to promote some of the Mountain State’s best eats, and I’m definitely still pinching myself over this gig. You can check out the story yourself at http://bit.ly/2lY4Q47.

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It seems like the humble pepperoni roll is having a moment.

Not only is this West Virginia staple featured in my Food Network roundup mentioned above, but a national sportscaster also kept going on and on about wanting to try some during Saturday’s televised WVU basketball game.

The very next morning, Parade Magazine featured our official state food during its roundup of 50 state “Comfort Foods from Coast to Coast,” which followed McCormick’s shout-out last month of pepperoni roll dip as the spice company’s West Virginia entry in its “50 Super Bowl Dips from 50 States” list.

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Maybe The Food Guy is having a little moment, too?

Still riding a wave of Food Network fame, I’ll also be out and about either judging, emceeing or attending a whole bunch of food-related competitions, dinners and events in the coming months. Please come up and say “hello” if you find yourself at any of these fun affairs:

n On Wednesday I’ll be attending Habitat for Humanity’s “A Taste of Rocco’s” fundraising dinner at the Clay Center.

n This weekend, I head up to West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle to judge the International Water Tasting Competition in Berkeley Springs.

n On March 2, you’ll find me eating my fill at Faith in Action’s Sweet Charity Dessert Competition here in Charleston. (More on that below!)

n The very next day, I’ll make my way to Stonewall Resort to once again emcee the West Virginia Culinary Classic, a weekend of food demonstrations, beer and wine tastings, receptions, seminars, dinners and more from March 3 through 5.

n I drive back from Stonewall March 5 and head straight downtown (that same day) to judge a Guinness cooking competition sponsored by the Celtic Calling festival here in town.

n Two weeks later, I’ll be emceeing and judging at Capitol Market’s annual Green Chili Shootout.

n And at the end of March, I’ll join other VIPs for a reception to kickoff this year’s Charleston Seafood Partnership events around the city. Looks like I picked the wrong month to get back on ye’ ol’ diet!

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Speaking of food events, Amy and I had a great time with friends old and new at this past Saturday’s FeastivALL beer vs. wine showdown at Berry Hills Country Club.

The annual fundraising dinner to support Charleston’s FestivALL features a five-course tasting menu of dishes, each one paired with both a specially selected beer and a wine. After each course, guests vote on which pairing they enjoyed the most.

While votes were always split at our table, most everyone agreed it was the beer pairings that took them by surprise — either because they hadn’t thought much about pairing beer with gourmet food or because they didn’t expect to enjoy those pairings so much.

This year’s opening course featured a black cherry winter greens salad with oak leaves, candied hazelnuts, pomegranate, roasted black cherries and poppyseed dressing. The Ommegang Rosetta cherry-aged Belgium sour served with it was nice, but a little too similar to the salad’s tart flavor profile. I’m not usually a big Riesling fan, but the 2015 Grace Lane won this round for me — and the public’s vote, too.

The second course was by far the evening’s best: a delicious grilled barramundi fish served with a creamy, rich braised leek au gratin and Moroccan root vegetables. The 2014 Mer Soleil Santa Lucia Chardonnay was nice on its own, but both the public and I agreed Ommegang’s heady Grains of Truth Harvest Ale was a much better complement to the dish’s spices.

An intermezzo of brown sugar quenelles with what was supposed to be apple pie foam was served with a dollop of frozen whipped cream instead, and beer came on top for me and the public here, too. I adore the Lot 65 Marietta Old Vine Red wine it came with, but Samuel Smith’s Best Organic Ale really enriched the treat’s sweetness.

Tying up the beer-wine battle at 2-2, the 2013 Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvee Pinot Noir was a nice fit for the beef saltimbocco braciole with Tuscan kale, smoked gouda, prosciutto, fresh sage, roasted red peppers and herb garlic buerre blanc with risotto. I appreciated the thoughtful pairing of the Italian-inspired LaRoss Birra Moretti, I just wasn’t a big fan of the beer itself.

Which leaves us with dessert: pineapple milli feuilles with super-chewy granola brittle, cherry pearls and maple brown sugar foam. While a few sweet-wine lovers at our table enjoyed the 2014 Nivole Moscato d’Asti, I can’t warm up to moscato — or any overly sweet wine, in general. DuClaw’s Hop Continuum #2 was the clear favorite for me, but wine took the popular vote, meaning vino won the night in a hotly contested 3-2 battle.

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A dessert competition? Sweet!

Even better? You get to taste the goods.

Faith in Action of the Greater Kanawha Valley is hosting its third-annual “Sweet Charity” bake-off March 2 at the Columbia Gas Pipeline Group auditorium at 1700 MacCorkle Ave.

The event will feature several area confectioners and chefs presenting a variety of baked goods that a panel of celebrity judges will score based on presentation, creativity and taste.

And while the judges are on stage doing their thing, guests can purchase tickets to sample dozens of treats while enjoying music, West Virginia wines, a chance to win door prizes and more.

Confirmed entrants to date include Teri Blevins of Lil’ Bit of Heaven Cupcakes (the event’s reigning People’s Choice award winner) along with returning participants Zach Davis of Delights by Davis, Chef Cheri Godfrey of Mardi Gras Casino & Resort, Tina Francis of Sweet Confections Bakery in Huntington and Jeni Burns-Riser of Ms. Groovy’s Kitchen.

New contestants this year include Sugar Momma Sweets, Bellaire at Devonshire and Rock City Bakery, a new downtown Charleston bakery that is on my list of new spots to review in the coming weeks.

Adam Harris, executive producer of “Mountain Stage,” will again emcee the event with this year’s judges: former radio host Morgan Robinson, man-about-town Jim Strawn and TV anchor Kallie Cart.

Noticeably absent from this year’s judging panel is the beloved Food Guy. (Something about “taking turns” or some such nonsense.) I kid! It’s a great event — and this year, I can indulge without the pressure of publicly picking a winner.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the event runs from 7 to 9 that night. Tickets are $25 each and are available online at faithinactiongkv.com or at Oddbird Gift Emporium at 247 Capitol St.

All net proceeds from the event will support the work of Faith in Action, a nonprofit dedicated to helping seniors in Kanawha and Putnam counties remain in their own homes as long as possible by providing free services like transportation to medical appointments or the grocery store, running errands, making telephone reassurance calls or friendly visits, and more.

For more information, contact Jennifer Waggener 304-881-7253 or jennifer@faithinactiongkv.com.

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Parkersburg-area restaurants are taking a cue from Charleston’s success by hosting the first-ever Mid-Ohio Valley Restaurant Week next Monday through March 4.

Just as in the Kanawha Valley, participating restaurants there will offer guests a special three-course menu consisting of an appetizer, entree and dessert, all for $30.

The event, also coordinated by Charleston Restaurant Week founders Buzz Food Service, will feature 13 Parkersburg-Marietta restaurants during its inaugural event, including Austyn’s Restaurant, Boathouse BBQ, CJ’s Italian Kitchen, daVinci’s Italian Restaurant, JP Henry, Mango Latin Bistro, Marietta Brewing Co., River Town Grill, Spagna’s, Spat’s at The Blennerhassett Hotel, The Galley, The House of Wines and The Levee House.

For more information and special menu offerings, check out “Mid-Ohio Valley Restaurant Week” page on Facebook.

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Wednesday is National Margarita Day. Just sayin’.

Steven Keith writes a weekly food column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail and an occasional food blog at blogs.wvgazettemail.com/foodguy. He can be reached at 304-380-6096 or by email at wvfoodguy@aol.com. You can also follow him on Facebook as “WV Food Guy” and on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest as “WVFoodGuy.”

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