About two weeks ago I received an email inviting me to be a guest judge at a cooking competition between two chefs here in Charlotte. The event, The Mango Hometown Tour, was being put on by the National Mango Board whose mission is to educate people on the goodness of mangoes.
Needless to say I was quite excited to be part of it, as I had never been asked to do anything like this before. Plus, my family loves mangoes which not only taste great, but have lots of vitamin A and C, are a good source of dietary fiber and a one cup serving has only a hundred calories.
With six different varieties of mango that are available at different times throughout the year mangoes also incorporate well into savory dishes. Incidentally, one of my wife’s favorite dishes is my coconut and mango braised country ribs.
The Charlotte event, which was held last Friday at The Liberty Gastropub, was a delicious battle between chef Fran Scibelli of Fran’s Filling Station and Tom Condron, Executive Chef and Co-Owner of The Liberty. They were asked to create a mango dish that reflected Southern cuisine and local Charlotte flavors. Their creations resulted in a very difficult decision for us.
Chef Condron started things off with his Underwood Farm’s 14-hour slow roasted Berkshire pork belly slider served with a vanilla-mango butter, pickled fresh hearts of palm and mango slaw and capped off with a mango beer shot. The pork belly was buttery and perfectly caramelized with the vanilla-mango butter providing sweetness and the slaw adding a nice crunch. The mango beer shot was a hefeweizen served in shot glass made out of frozen mango puree. It was a little difficult to eat, but it was a refreshing end to the meal with a nice kick.
Following that performance was going to be difficult, but Chef Scibelli really brought the flavor with her mango-marinated BBQ pulled pork with sweet potato-mango mash, pickled mango slaw and spicy mango-glazed bacon that was served with a mango sweet tea. One of the things that really stood out for me was the spicy mango-glazed bacon, which provided a nice textural element to the dish to offset the creaminess of the mash and the very tender pulled pork.
Based on what the chefs prepared and how well they incorporated mango into their dishes it made judging the event that much more difficult. It also didn’t help matters any that I was the least experienced person on the panel. My fellow judges, Heidi Billotto, food writer and restaurant critic for Charlotte Living; Sarah Crosland, Associate Editor for Charlotte Magazine; and Nicole Warshauer, Charlotte Marketing and Community Manager for Yelp, handed in our score sheets and waited for them to be tallied.
In the end Chef Condron’s pork belly slider was the winner, but it seriously could have gone either way. Both chefs are very talented and presented beautiful, great tasting dishes. It was a lot of fun to be part of the event, as I not only ate really well, but learned a lot about mangoes.
If this sounds like something you might be interested in attending there are still four more stops on the Mango Hometown Tour. These events, which are free to attend, are coming to the following cities over the next few months. You can click on the name of the city to be taken to Mango.org for more information about the specific events and make a reservation to get in on the action.
Finally, if you’d like to eat more mangoes, but have a difficult time preparing them thanks to their awkward seed placement, I put together a Digital Dads in the Kitchen Short on the slice and scoop method of cutting a mango. You could go out and purchase a mango slicer at your local home goods store. However, like Alton Brown there are no unitaskers in my kitchen except for the fire extinguisher.
Disclosure: I was a guest judge for the Mango Hometown Tour’s Charlotte event and was not compensated in any way or promised anything else in exchange for writing about the event. All opinions contained herein are my own.
Photo credit: Larry Gonzales, Gallery G Photography