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Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneRogue Valley Manor chefs Robert Navarrete and Diane Menzie share the ingredients for their award-winning dish, 30th Street Vegan Corn Risotto.

Culinary champs

Rogue Valley Manor residents are going to be eating even better than usual.

Manor chefs Robert Navarrete and Diane Menzie brought home a gold medal last month from a nationwide culinary competition in Minnesota for a dish they invented — 30th Street Vegan Corn Risotto — and now it’s on the Manor menu.

Teams from five hospitals and long-term care facilities from all over the country made it to the finals of the competition sponsored by the Association for Healthcare Foodservice, and they competed to create the best meal from original recipes, with judging based on organization, culinary skills, taste and presentation.

The teams were given an hour and 15 minutes to prep, prepare, plate and present.

The Medford chefs’ winning dish was inspired by grilled Mexican street corn called elotes, said Navarrete, who serves as executive chef at the Manor.

The challenge was to prepare a plant-based dish, so Navarrette added a few twists to the traditional elotes, which are typically served with crema, cotija cheese and “lots of spices,” he said.

He used a seaweed stock with avocado to create the crema-like sauce, and pickled cauliflower and cilantro oil to replicate the “the twang” of cojita cheese. The corn was topped with spices, garnished with fresh tomatoes and green onions, and served over a bed of risotto.

Another unique element: a Tajin-spiced lacy tuile adorning the risotto.

Although the recipe took only days to create, it required several hours of practice.

“We practiced a ton,” said Navarrete.

The dish was created from start to finish “maybe 20 times,” he said.

Menzie joked that she probably practiced making the “tricky” tuile — a baked wafer — “500 times.”

And even with all that prep work, the chefs were thrown a curve ball.

Just before the final cook-off, chefs received a “mystery ingredient” to incorporate into their meal. This year’s ingredient was a choice of a craft-brew beer from the Minnesota-based craft brewery Surly Brewing Co.

Navarrete and Menzie chose a light beer to create a glaze over the risotto.

The beer made the recipe not purely plant-based, but it complemented the flavors of the dish, Navarrete said.

“It turned out beautiful,” Menzie said of the final product.

Setting the AHF event apart from other culinary competitions, meals had to be suitable to serve in the competitors’ facilities and meet cost and nutrition parameters — with food costs less than $8 per meal and no more than 700 calories, 23 grams of fat and 750 mg of sodium.

“We had a great time,” Navarrete said of the contest. “We wanted to go and enjoy the experience. It was super fun. It was phenomenal.”

The gold medal was a career highlight for both Navarette and Menzie.

Navarette has served as the Manor’s executive chef for about 18 months. Prior to making his way to Southern Oregon, he worked as culinary instructor at The Art Institute of San Diego.

His cooking career began when he was 12 years old.

“I had made my dad a birthday dinner of chicken, potatoes and German chocolate cake,” he recalled. “He praised me, and I was on cloud nine.”

“That’s when the switch was flipped,” he said.

He added that his mother had the biggest influence on his cooking.

“All the women in my family ... are really good cooks.”

During high school, he served an internship in the culinary arts and then began his formal training at Johnson and Wales University.

He’s worked in the Italian and French fine dining scene, served as chef aboard a sport fishing yacht, and managed catered affairs at the Palomar Hotel in San Diego.

“There’s been no other career for me.”

Navarette also recently co-wrote a cookbook, “K&R Scratch Recipes,” with a former Art Institute colleague, Kenneth L. Hargreaves.

Menzie, who has worked in the kitchen at the Manor for 19 years, is the facility’s culinary director.

She said she has had a passion for cooking since she was a little girl.

“I come from a long line of great cooks my grandmother, my mother,” she said.

Her career was launched at the Jacksonville Inn, where she worked for 18 years developing all aspects of the restaurant and creating the largest catering company in the Rogue Valley.

During her tenure in Jacksonville, she won many awards in local chefs’ competitions, was featured in newspaper articles, and even appeared on a CNN cooking show.

Now that the competition is behind her, Menzie, who writes the menus for each of the Manor’s restaurants and cafes, will work the 30th St. Vegan Corn Risotto into the next six-week cycle of fare offered.

“Probably won’t serve it with the tuile, though,” she said.

Both chefs agree that the risotto fits the Manor’s emphasis on introducing more plant-based, heart-healthy dishes to residents and incorporating locally grown produce.

Reach Grants Pass freelance writer Tammy Asnicar at tammyasnicar@q.com.


30th St. Vegan Street Corn Risotto

Serves 6 to 8


For the risotto:

2 cups Arborio rice

2 cups olive oil

For the Corn Dashi (savory stock):

12 ears corn on the cob

1 pound yellow onion

2 ounces Kombu seaweed

2 gallons water

For the Cilantro Oil:

2 bunches cilantro

1.5 cups olive oil

For the Avocado Crema:

1 avocado

3 ounces corn dashi

For the Pickled Cauliflower:

6 ounces cauliflower

1/2 cup Champagne vinegar (not as pungent as other vinegars – softer, sweeter)

1/4 teaspoon each paprika and chili powder

1/2 teaspoon sugar

3 tablespoons Kosher salt

For the Garnish:

2 ears corn

10 ounces heirloom cherry tomatoes

2 ounces red radish

1 lime

1 ounce micro cilantro

3 green onions

For the Tajin Tuile:

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups water

3 Tablespoons Tajin


For the Corn Dashi:

Peel and husk corn, removing all kernels, add to stock pot, and cover with 1-1/2 gallons of water. Bring to boil, steep, blend and hold. The dashi will be the base for the risotto.

For the Cilantro Oil:

Blanch cilantro and chill. When chilled, shake water off and put in blender with oil. Blend, and strain resulting oil through coffee filter.

For the Avocado Crema:

Put avocado in blender and add 3 ounces corn dashi, blend/taste/season. Add 3 tablespoons of cilantro oil.

For the Pickled Cauliflower:

Cut cauliflower into mini florets. Put vinegar, salt and spices in a small pot and bring to a boil. Add cauliflower and cook for 2 minutes. Strain and set aside for plate up.

For the Savory Tajin Tuile:

Put flour and water together in a bowl or small jar and whisk. Get a 6-inch nonstick pan warm over medium heat (about 300 degrees). Add 2 ounces of flour and water mixture and olive oil to pan and whisk until big bubbles form, then leave alone until golden brown. (It takes about 40 seconds.) (Do not over whisk — it will turn to “glue,” said Menzie.) Remove from pan and place on paper towel, set aside, season with Tajin, set aside.

Plate up risotto, add pickled cauliflower. Garnish with corn, tomato, onion and radish mixture. Zest with lime juice for “a fresh bite,” said Navarrete.

For presentation, swirl a bit of avocado crema on each plate for presentation.

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