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What's Up Magazine

Chef's Challenge 2010

Feb 28, 2011 07:45PM ● By Anonymous

They are executive chefs with a mission and their profession is in the spotlight more than ever before. In August 2009, What’s Up? introduced readers to our inaugural Chefs’ Challenge, inviting the winning chefs from our annual Best of Annapolis and Best of Eastern Shore contests to develop a creative menu with several tempting caveats. Deemed a success by all involved (and most importantly you), we are excited to introduce this year’s Chefs’ Challenge featuring Chef Ken Upton of Ken’s Creative Kitchen/Back Porch Café in Annapolis and Chef Brendan Keegan of 208 Talbot in Easton. As voted by our readership, these two chefs rose to the very top of a long list of respected professionals in their field. The finest restaurants were represented among the voting, but these gentlemen earned the accolade Best Chef, and have proven it thusly with their cooking. Keegan earned Best Chef honors last year (and was featured in the ensuing Chefs’ Challenge), while Upton has been a fixture in Annapolis, both as an award-winning caterer and as owner of the renowned Back Porch Café for 15 years. Together, they represent their profession with gusto and top-notch creativity, and each has created a worthy four-course menu.

Their challenge; develop a menu in which each course maintains a specific theme and is paired to an optimal beverage, in most cases a select wine. There are four themes: chef’s signature item; use of local ingredients; experimental dish; and the reinvention of a classic.

Chef Ken Upton
Ken’s Creative Kitchen/ Back Porch Café, Annapolis

Chef Ken Upton was raised in Washington, D.C. (near Fairhaven) and drew early culinary inspiration from his grandmother who he says, “could make a whole chicken last six meals.” He fondly recalls crabbing and fishing as a young boy on the Potomac, and later as a teenager, enjoyed dating and going out to dine. Upon graduating from college (art history major), Upton taught art in Annapolis. He always loved entertaining and was given the foundation for cooking from his grandmother. “The art background gave me the visual, I knew the taste, and had the foundation; it was all there. I always thought I’d be an artist, but the day I bought my first restaurant, I never did another art project again,” he says laughing. In the mid-1970s, Upton purchased Steamboat Landing restaurant in Galesville, jumping headfirst into the restaurant business. “I must have personally cooked every meal for the first three years,” says Upton. In 1977, he began Ken’s Creative Kitchen and has built a reputation as one of Annapolis’ finest caterers. His mantra is “only work with the best; the best ingredients, offer the best service, and keep it fun for everyone!” Upton is an avid traveler, frequenting exotic and fashionable restaurants throughout the world in pursuit of perfection. Fifteen years ago, Upton opened the Back Porch Café, serving breakfast and lunch in the picturesque Annapolis Marina, overlooking Back Creek. 

The Menu from the kitchen of Chef Ken Upton

Upton has created a menu that progresses from first course to dessert, with what could be considered two entrée courses in between. He describes his wine pairings as classy, modestly priced, and available at most fine retailers. He begins with the experimental theme.

Experimental Item

Chilled Roasted Summer Vegetable Terrine with Fresh Basil Nage, Arugula, and Nasturtium Salad 
Paired to: Captûre 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (Alexander Valley, Calif.)

Ken says, “You can’t really make a mistake with this dish. I was thinking of summer; people have all sorts of vegetables growing in their garden. And this is a different vegetable idea. You’re only limited by your own imagination.”


Local Ingredients Item

Sautéed Stuffed Maryland Soft Shell Crabs with Cheese Grits and Hot Mustard Sauce 
Paired to: Saddleback Cellars 2007 Chardonnay (Napa Valley, Calif.)

Ken says, “I like to stuff the cleaned-out soft crab with lump crab. It gives you a little surprise in the middle. And I thought we’d top it off with some more lump crab sautéed with julienned Smithfield ham; Merry Christmas! This is a rich dish, which is why I paired it to a chardonnay, not a wimpy, white.”


Reinvention of a Classic

Roast Rack of Domestic Lamb with Rosemary Persillade, Coriander Spiced Black Lentils with Pearl Onions, Wild Mushrooms, and Baby Artichokes 
Paired to: Domaine de Cristia 2007 Red (Châteauneuf-du-Pape, France) 

Ken says, “The persillade is herb, garlic, and shallot infused bread crumb coating. We have Dijon mustard spread on the outside of the Frenched rack to which we adhere the persillade. I prefer domestic lamb cooked to 124°F. And be sure to let the meat rest 10–15 minutes before you cut into it.”


Chef’s Signature Item

Almond Tuiles with Summer Berries, Coulis of Raspberry, Grand Mariner Cream, and Fresh Mint 
Paired to: Toad Hollow Vineyards Risqué Methode Ancestrale Sparkling Wine (made by Sieur d’Arques, France) 

Ken says, “This is a simple, versatile, and delicious dessert. Very cool, because you can incorporate flavors of your choice; sesame seeds instead of almonds, orange zest, whatever you like.”

Chef Brendan Keegan
208 Talbot, Easton

Since purchasing longtime St. Michaels favorite 208 Talbot with his business partner and brother-in-law Brian Fox in April of 2006, Chef Brendan Keegan has improved the restaurant’s already-stellar reputation by expertly executing his “new American” cuisine that includes flavors and techniques from Asia, Europe, the South, and his home state of Maryland with more than a touch of class and high-quality ingredients. The result has been a resounding success with area diners, who have now voted him our “Best Chef” for three years running, and yet he and Fox continue to expand their operation. Earlier this year they reinvented the front of their restaurant, formerly a wine-bar and small-plates alternative to the dining room, as “208 Burger,” a hip burger joint offering seven gourmet hamburgers along with spiked milkshakes and a large beer list.

Their blossoming empire is stretching beyond St. Michaels too, with Easton’s Brasserie Brightwell—a more casual restaurant than 208, suitable for a nice dinner or a night out including Keegan’s signature flavors—nearing its grand opening as we went to press. In preparing his wine-pairing menu, he enlisted Fox’s help. After all, the two have proven to work well together.

The Menu from the kitchen of Chef Brendan Keegan

Keegan has developed a robust menu in which each course could be considered a stand-alone dinner entrée. His wine selections were made in consensus with 208 Talbot’s owner Brian Fox, who’s chosen select wines available at fine retailers. Keegan opens with a signature dish.

Chef’s Signature Item

208 Crabcake, Fried Green Tomato, Watermelon Rind Pickle Relish & Old Bay Butter 
Paired to: Lioco Unoaked Chardonnay (Sonoma, Calif.) 

Brendan says, “Whether I like it or not, the crabcake is what many believe to be 208’s signature dish. I guess I can live with the summertime.”

*Chef’s Note: One of my servers, Sam Hardy, freezes the leftover watermelon to make watermelon margaritas, or you could just serve them for dessert.



Local Ingredients Item

Homemade “Springfield Farm’s Lamb” Sausage, Grilled Octopus, Roasted Eggplant Puree, Parsley Salad 
Paired to: Tardieu-Laurent Crozes-Hermitage Syrah (Rhone, France) 

Brendan says, “Everyone expects you to use crab here on the Eastern Shore. I decided to try something a little different. A farmer friend of mine, Bill Bankhead, owns Springfield Farms of Kent County near Rock Hall and raises Lincoln and Romney Lamb. His product is excellent and we are fortunate to do business with him. The ground lamb is used to make our own home-style sausages, but it is great by itself. We use it for our 208 lamb burgers, as well.”

Experimental Item

House Cured and Smoked Calf’s Tongue, Pickled Mustard Seeds, Malt Vinegar Reduction, and 2-Day Sauerkraut 
Paired to: Philippe Faury St. Joseph Syrah (Rhone, France) 

Brendan says,“Tongue is not everybody’s cup of tea, but I highly recommend it. This is a play on the “all-american” hot dog. We use the same process as pastrami and the result is a flavor similar to that of a hot dog.”



Reinvention of a Classic

Carne Asada—Grilled Butcher’s Steak, Chili Relleno, Avocado, and Mango Salsa Picante 
Paired to: Bodegas Roda Reserva 2002 or 2003 Red (La Rioja, Spain) 

Brendan says, “I am not sure what reinvented really means. This recipe might be my ‘reinterpretation’ or an ‘Americanized’ version or a ‘modern take’ on these Mexican classics. But remember, it’s food. In fact, it’s good food. Let’s try not to categorize it too much.”

208 Talbot Back Porch Cafe Brendan Keegan Ken Upton Ken's Creative Kitchen