Pittsburgh restaurants vie for title at Taste of the Championships

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, 9:14 p.m.

They won't be swinging from parallel bars or trying to stay upright on a 4-inch-wide balance beam, but some local chefs will be involved in a competition of their own at the P&G Gymnastics Championships running Aug. 21 to 24 at Consol Energy Center, Uptown.

Five fine-dining establishments will vie for recognition and bragging rights with special gymnastic-theme entrees that will be added to their menus in the Steel City's Taste of the Championships. The event is a joint effort among Visit Pittsburgh, USA Gymnastics and Highmark, to promote healthy eating.

In addition, a number of Pittsburgh-area restaurants will offer discounts during the week to P&G Gymnastics participants, spectators and guests.

Each of the five entries will be judged on creativity, presentation, taste and nutritional value. Nothing can be fried; the focus should be on whole grains and lean meats.

Becky Duncan, a registered dietician for Highmark, based in Camp Hill, will provide the nutrition analysis of each recipe in the contest.

“I will give them suggestions, as well,” she says. “These chefs know how to combine flavors to make a meal that tastes good and is good for you. I work with chefs all the time who have such great ideas of what to replace salt with or what to use in place of something else to make something low in fat.”

Duncan will be searching out a meal that is lean, low in fat, high in fiber and full of fruits and vegetables, she says. She will be examining the protein content, too. Gymnasts need protein, she says. Fish would be a great option.

“Also, I want a dish that's not dripping in sauce,” Duncan says. “It also has to look and smell good.”

Led by 1996 Olympian John Macready, a panel of celebrity judges will visit each Downtown restaurant Aug. 21 to 23. An awards presentation is planned for Aug. 24.

The lineup is The Capital Grille, Meat and Potatoes, Nine on Nine, NOLA and The Carlton.

Kevin Joyce, owner of The Carlton, says he was immediately interested in taking part, because it gives his chef an opportunity to create something new, and it's another way to develop healthier meals, which is a goal of the restaurant.

The competition is perfect because it is important for the athletes to eat the proper food to be able to compete at such a high level, Joyce says. Having to follow guidelines wasn't a problem because the restaurant accommodates individual dining preferences from vegan to gluten-free to heart-healthy on a daily basis.

Carlton executive chef Simon DeJohn says he is up for the challenge. He chose Vegetable Bean Paella With Toasted Almond Faro and Chicken Braciole.

“It is definitely off the beaten path from what I am used to, but I did some research and found that these athletes like to eat ... carbs and protein,” DeJohn says. “I also wanted to blend flavors together to give the meal a bold taste.”

He added zucchini, squash and tomatoes and flavored the dish with paprika, chili powder and saffron.

“It is both a flavorful and healthy dish,” DeJohn says. “So, it tastes good and you feel good about eating it.”

Nine on Nine owner Courtney Crawford says she didn't think twice about being part of this event.

“I really wanted to be involved,” Crawford says. “It's an important event for the city.”

Her chef, Lee Corbett, is creating Hawaiian Onaga Manna with local peaches and charred corn pico, whole-wheat couscous with lemon, parsley and English cucumber, heirloom tomatoes, basil olive oil and Saba reduction.

The Capital Grille's entree, created by executive chef Travis Hall, is named the Tuna Tuck and Twist and features fresh crab-stuffed Ahi tuna rolled in seaweed with crisp Panko, served atop gingered rice and accompanied by chile-pepper water.

“This is a great way to be involved with the gymnastics championships,” Casey Henderlong, managing partner at The Capital Grille, says. “It gives participants and visitors a wonderful opportunity to walk around the city. We are so excited to be a part of it, even more so for those of us at the restaurant who ourselves have some background in gymnastics from years ago. It is also great to have some friendly competition with other local fine restaurants.”

The P&G Championships, the national championship for USA Gymnastics, showcases the country's top male and female gymnasts, who are vying for U.S. titles and national-team berths at the four-day event.

“This is the fifth year for the Taste of the Championships, and every year it just gets better,” says Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics.

“The restaurants are so creative with their entrees, and John and his panel of judges have a great time visiting the restaurants, trying the entrees and interacting with the chef, staff and fans. The Taste of the Championships has become a popular initiative with everyone involved,” he says.

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7889 or jharrop@tribweb.com.

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