The Cook-Off might best be described as West Virginia’s culinary trade fair. Just as Tamarack showcases the artists and artisans of the state, the Cast Iron Cook-Off showcases its culinary talent and attractions.
Cook-Off judges have included such national and international culinary celebrities as Dickie Brennan, Fred Raynard, Lee Ann Wong, Farmer Lee Jones and Rod Stoner, winner of the West Virginia Tourism life-time achievement award.
The event draws participants and chefs from around the region. Of the 120 Cook-Off “foodies” who participated on teams in January, 2008, 20% were from DC/Maryland or Pittsburgh and other nearby states. Some of the properties represented include: Café Cimino, Stonewall Resort, Bridge Road Bistro, Provence Market, Smokey’s on the Gorge, the Charleston Marriott Hotel, Berry Hills Country Club and the Greenbrier Resort.
Saturday evening’s Awards presentation and Taste of the Mountains Dine Around and Reception. The Pioneer Award, established to recognize an individual who has made a significant contribution to fostering and forwarding tourism in West Virginia, is also presented.
History of the West Virginia Cast Iron Cook-Off
Planning for the Cast Iron Cook-Off® began in midsummer 2005, coordinated by the Collaborative for the 21st Century Appalachia®. The planning group consisted of Mike Diethorn and Robert Wong from Charleston’s Bridge Road Bistro, Harv Christie from Gourmet Central in Romney, Caryn Gresham of the West Virginia Division of Tourism, Dale Hawkins from the Stonewall Jackson Resort, Greg Atkinson of the West Virginia Department of Education Hospitality and Training (HEAT) program, and Allen Arnold of the Collaborative for the 21st Century Appalachia®.
Several members of the group had actually bandied about the notion of West Virginians participating in some sort of iron chef competition at a trade show in Toronto. However, the idea was quickly forgotten due to the demands of running their respective restaurants.
Since preparing food in cast iron — a traditional cookware — fit so neatly with the Collaborative’s emphasis on reinventing traditional recipes, it made sense for this organization to take on a coordination and leadership role in making the idea a reality. The Cast Iron Cook-Off® would soon become the Collaborative’s signature event.
At one of the earliest planning meetings, it was decided that a primary goal of the cook-off would be to help develop the next generation of West Virginia’s culinary talent. As a result, ProStart students have been integrally involved each year.
The Cast Iron Cook-Off® was held the first three years (2006-08) at Stonewall Resort in Roanoke, WV, and the next two years at the Charleston Town Centre Marriott (2009-10). The Greenbrier has been home to the event in 2011 and 2012).
In the spring of 2010, The Collaborative for the 21st Century Appalachia (The Farm2u Collaborative) contracted with Mythology Marketing to conduct an economic impact study.