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Little Bites - Top Chef 

Passing judgment on top chefs is harder than it looks. But it sure tastes good.

Passing judgment on top chefs is harder than it looks. But it sure tastes good.

Judging Central Oregon's Top Chef competition is a tough job, but someone's got to do it.

Fortunately, I was one of those someones last weekend at the Bite of Bend.

In case you've been living under a rock, Top Chef pits two culinary masterminds against each other in a head-to-head cooking competition that features a secret ingredient, which the competitors discover just before the timer begins. At this weekend's live competition in downtown Bend, the chefs had 45 minutes to create an entrée, plus an appetizer or dessert. One of the dishes was required to include the secret ingredient.

I had the distinct honor of judging an elimination round on Saturday, and a quarter-final round on Sunday, and I can't wait to eat at every restaurant represented, including one that isn't even a restaurant.

On Saturday, Matthew Makohin and Luke Mason from The Capitol took on Anna Witham and Renee Merasco of The Root Cellar, a pickling and catering business. Their secret ingredient was Jem's Cashew Cardamom Nut Butter. Witham and Merasco featured it in a decadent chocolate mousse speared with a shard of candied molasses, while Matthew and Luke folded it into an exquisite, hand-made empanada.

On Sunday, winners Witham and Merasco returned to the stage to compete against Mark Hosack and Victor Florín of Currents at the Riverhouse. Their secret ingredient was albacore tuna loin, which Witham and Merasco seared and placed on a bed of sorrel before topping it with salmon roe and a single shiitake mushroom. Hosack and Florín served their tuna on top of creamy purple potato risotto, then drizzled the dish with a tart chimichurri sauce.

The level of sophistication shown under pressure by these local chefs reminds me just how lucky we are to live in a town with such good food. Bon apetít!

Note: Chef Linde from Pronghorn took home the trophy for the 2016 Central Oregon Top Chef competition. The winning dishes from his three rounds of competition will be available on a rotating basis for a limited time on the Pronghorn menu.

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