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The judges tableSullivan student cheftestants competed for scholarships last night at Winston’s, at an event hosted by Dumante (the Italian Pistachio Nut Liqueur), serving up round after round of imaginative cocktails and small plate savory dishes featuring the liqueur. An impressive (read “I’d be intimidated if I were cooking for them”) panel of judges included food writer Steve Coomes, Food and Dining Magazine’s John White, Winston’s executive chef John Castro, as well as Jim Gerhardt of Limestone and the Oakroom, and John Wilson of Jeff Ruby’s. They were charged with scoring on four elements: taste, presentation, Dumante creativity and Dumante flavor. The rest of us just got to play Gael Greene for the night, critiquing each dish and making notes of our own in order to vote for a people’s choice. The students turned out a fine performance, with only a bump or two along the way – like my towering sautéed sea bass dish that toppled onto the table when delivered. “Oops, kerplunk!” exclaimed the server. lemongrass seared scallop with lemony Dumante beurre blanc and edamame mashOf the six cocktails, I enjoyed the Dumojito with the most gusto (and in fact wished I could trade the Dumante Birthday Cake drink that followed for another. Sprinkles in a drink just aren’t my thing.) I was most impressed with the lemongrass seared scallop with Dumante lemony beurre blanc and edamame mash. “This one is ambitious and is taking risks,” I commented, channeling Top Chef judges. Howard Sturm, Dumante cofounder, was exuberant in his praise for all the dishes and the aspiring chefs. “I wanted to roll around in it, it was that good” he declared. The chefs’ torment was soon over as the people’s choice winners were announced – Whitney Knoch took home a bottle of Dumante for her Dumojito (my favorite!) and Erica Sung won for her intrepid scallop dish. Erican Sung wins the people's choice for her savory dishWhile that was all well and good, the assembled chefs waited anxiously for the money awards. Sara Abshire took it home with a chocolate pistachio concoction, and the big winner of the night turned out to be Erica, taking home people’s choice and the scholarship money for her scallop. Erica is a friend of a friend, so I’ll be tracking down that recipe. For now though, I’ll share the drink that was people’s choice (and mine), the Dumojito. Note, the trick according to Whitney is to let the mint steep at leas half an hour. 4 tsp brown sugar 6 sprigs fresh mint 1 lime, halved 2 oz. Dumante 1.5 oz. light rum Club soda Ice Muddle sugar and mix with soda water in a pint glass. Squeeze the lime into the glass, leaving one hull in the mixture. Add Dumante and rum, stir and fill with ice. Top with club soda.

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