Chef Jessica Benefield of Virago Triumphs at Iron Fork



Iron Fork winner Jessica Benefield of Virago
  • Iron Fork winner Jessica Benefield of Virago
Update: additional photos of the action at Iron Fork.
Iron Fork This year’s Iron Fork competition brought forth a new winner as the previous champ, two-time winner Laura Wilson of the Nashville Farmers' Market burnished her fork for judging the event rather than for competing in it. Last night, there was an all-new set of chefs vying for the Iron Fork trophy, using the surprise secret ingredient — pure Vermont maple syrup — provided by US Foods (with use of a well-stocked pantry). The competing chefs were (including, for the first time in the event’s six years, two women):

Chef Kristin Beringson, Holland House Bar and Refuge
Chef Jamie Watson, Café Fundamental
Chef Kevin Ramquist, F. Scott's
Chef Bart Pickens, Loveless Cafe
Chef Jessica Benefield, Virago

Judging alongside Chef Wilson were Vivek Surti of VEA Supper Club, food blogger Beth Sachan of Eat. Drink. Smile., author and Bites contributor Chris Chamberlain and Ed Butler from US Foods. And their job was a tough one; the competition yielded four different lamb dishes and one featuring beef (and not a single pancake). In the end, it was the beef that won the fork.

The winning dish, prepared by Jessica Benefield and her team from Virago was butter-poached New York strip with a green Sriracha-chimichurri, coconut powder and maple soy sauce. It was served with a papaya salad topped with maple-candied pecans and a shrimp toast with a sweet maple chili sauce (thanks for taking good notes, Beth!). This marks the fourth time in the six years of Iron Fork that a woman has won the competition (take that, Top Chef).

Of course, for those not fortunate enough to be judges, the best part of the event is the food and drink samples. Lines for the tastings weren’t long and snaky like in years past, though the lines at the bar were a bit slow-moving. A double of spiced pear Hangar 1 vodka quickly made me forget the wait, though.

Anyhoo, It didn’t take too long after arriving to figure out that the favorite bite of the night was the scallop crudo with aji amarillo, prosecco gelée, and Pop Rocks from Kayne Prime. Everyone was talking about it and it eventually won the audience award.

Other favorite dishes included the brisket taco from Tavern, the mini Cuban sandwiches from Pub5, a very complex crab salad with spring garlic and baby artichoke from The Yellow Porch, Pad Pet Pla (crispy catfish stir-fry) from Ginger Thai restaurant, and smoked salmon crostini from Provence. My favorites included a margherita pizza from Sal’s and the kale salad from Nero’s Grill.

After the competition ended, I couldn’t help but marvel at the bountiful pantry provided by US Foods. There was a tempting log of gouda there that could feed a family for months. Not to mention a stunning amount of grits and flour, pork belly, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Instead of packing them back up, US Foods generously donated the unused food to Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee.

If you attended the event, what was your favorite bite? What did I miss? And here are more photos, taken by Scene photographer Michael W. Bunch, including the audience award-winning scallop crudo from Kayne Prime:








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