Buck Milligan and Jesse Rezin showed up Saturday morning at the final Farmers Market with nothing but their knives.
Stationed amid the bustle of Town Square, the reigning Chopped Junior Grand Champion, age 13, went knife to knife with his mentor and trainer, Jesse Rezin of The Kitchen, for the inaugural “Beat Buck Milligan” cook-off.
The event was inspired by the Food Network’s hit TV shows “Beat Bobby Flay” and “Chopped.” The two chefs, along with their recruited assistants, had 90 minutes to whip up a four-course meal with ingredients entirely sourced from the Farmers Market.
Earlier that morning the event’s judges — Mike Read, Annie Fenn, Cara Rank and Chelsea Beets — met to survey the market for ingredients. Inspired by the bounty of fresh produce unique to the Farmers Market, the judges chose Bovine and Swine andouille sausage, mixed peppers, boiled peanuts and a giant head of red cabbage.
Over the course of the next hour and a half, Buck and Rezin moved quickly to make four dishes to wow the judges. Each dish could score 20 points: 10 for taste, five for presentation and five for the expert use of the secret ingredients.
“We were really impressed overall with what all the chefs were able to do with what little they had,” Beets said.
Besides salt, pepper, oil and flour, the chefs had only what the market offered.
Rezin brought in a heavy-hitting team made up of Fine Dining colleagues Chad Horton and Natalie Bates. While his wood-fired flatbread with pesto chimichurri and steak and sweet corn pancakes with peaches and sweet pepper jelly were refreshing twists on classic dishes, the young Buck edged out the competition with his prize-winning homemade pasta and andouille sausage and expert use of secret ingredients.
The News&Guide asked Buck how it felt to have defended his title.
“It feels normal,” the chef said.
After winning a grand title on the Food Network, the Farmers Market competition among his friends and family was small potatoes for the cooking prodigy.
Buck was flanked by his uncle, Los Angeles-based chef Chris Kidder, and chef Michael Britton of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, and was armed with sharp weapons from his family’s company, New West KnifeWorks.
The all-star team started with a Mead Ranch beef tartare with peppers on top of a cabbage slice, followed by the prize-winning homemade pasta with andouille sausage. The entree was a rib-eye steak with collard greens and peppers, topped by a simple mixed berry, whipped cream and boiled peanut brittle dessert.
“He did a great job of using the secret ingredients,” Beets said. “They were a big focal point of a lot of the dishes. And everyone was super impressed with the pasta-making.”
Buck said he was really familiar with all of the secret ingredients, with the exception of the boiled peanuts.
Ultimately, in addition to displaying young talent, “Beat Buck Milligan” showcased the possibilities of local produce.
“I thought it was really cool how we just used all local ingredients and the freshest of foods that we have here in Jackson,” the champ said.