Local chefs head to Italy for truffle competition

originally posted in the Brandon News and Tribune by Barbara Routen

 

Kirsten Mathers of Tampa and Devin Davis of Plant City head to Atlanta and then Rome, Italy, on an all-expenses-paid trip to the Accademia del Tartufo to compete in the final stage of the Urbani Tartufi Truffle Contest.

Kirsten Mathers of Tampa and Devin Davis of Plant City head to Atlanta and then Rome, Italy, on an all-expenses-paid trip to the Accademia del Tartufo to compete in the final stage of the Urbani Tartufi Truffle Contest.

— Devin Davis, 20, and Kirsten Mathers, 27, headed to Perugia, Italy, March 28 as one of seven finalist teams (from 50 original teams) to compete in the Urbani Tartufi Truffle Contest.

Mathers, a creative person with “a passion toward the beauty and power of food,” left her job as a bank teller in Minnesota in December to pursue an associate of arts degree in culinary arts at the Art Institute in Tampa, a branch of Miami International University of Art & Design.

Davis, a 2014 honors graduate from Seffner Christian Academy, likes math but has always loved cooking. Since he was 12, he has competed and won many culinary contests. He was unsure whether to matriculate at a university to study engineering or attend culinary school, so he put the decision in God’s hands.

He entered the Food Network’s Chopped Scholarship Competition and won a $40,000 Art Institute of Tampa scholarship.

He began working toward a Bachelor of Arts degree in culinary management in July 2014 and has continued to win contests sponsored by entities like the American Culinary Federation. He was a finalist in Chaîne des Rôtisseurs’ 2015 Best Young Chef of the Southeast competition.

It all started at home for Davis, who was born in Brandon, lived a while in Seffner and grew up in Plant City, where he still lives. He was raised on Italian food from his mom’s side and traditional Southern comfort food on his dad’s side. He learned by watching his mother, grandmother and great-grandmother prepare meals.

“It went from ‘let me help you in the kitchen’ to ‘let me cook’ to watching cooking shows to entering cooking competitions,” said Davis.

His family, so influential to his growth as a cook, are with him and Mathers in Italy: his parents, Steve and Tina Davis, sister, Katlyn Davis, grandmother, Diane Yates, and her husband, Wilford Yates.

However, it was Clyde Tanner, academic department director-culinary at Art Institute of Tampa, who surprised Davis and Mathers by telling them in November that he volunteered them to represent the Tampa campus in a truffle contest.

“He said, ‘I believe you can win it,’ ” said Davis.

“Black truffles, a kind of mushroom, are earthy, with a strong but nice aroma,” Davis said. “They are one of the most expensive ingredients in the world, about $1100 per pound. They are used sparingly. You don’t cook them much; you stir them in at the end or shave them over the top of something.”

Urbani USA overnighted the extremely rare truffles to each of 50 teams to create an entrée and something savory or sweet. Davis and Mathers set to work to produce their contest entries.

“It’s so fun to work together. We complement each other, challenge each other and keep each other motivated,” said Mathers. “We come at things with the right balance of life experiences.”

They start by the book “and then our brains get going and we’re like, what if we added more of this? What if we tweak that? What’s the next step?” she said. “The dishes we created are culminations of the things that we love to add.”

Davis and Mathers made a truffle-stuffed rabbit loin with braised rabbit leg, fresh spinach pasta, fried quail egg, truffle jus and shaved black truffles and a truffle soufflé with hazelnut syrup, truffle brown-sugar crumble and truffle ice cream.

They will participate in a two-week Italian-cuisine course at the Università dei Sapori and recreate their recipes for judging April 8.

Find out more from these articles:

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truffle-entree Devin Davis and Kirsten Mathers will compete in the Urbani Tartufi Truffle Contest by recreating this original concoction — a truffle-stuffed rabbit loin with braised rabbit leg, fresh spinach pasta, fried quail egg, truffle jus and shaved black truffles.

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trufflesoufle The pairís creation of truffle soufflÈ with hazelnut syrup, truffle brown-sugar crumble and truffle ice cream will be their dessert submission for the Urbani Tartufi Truffle Contest.
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