Fields & Ivy chef’s ratatouille bars take top spot in county fair culinary challenge

photo by: Jackson Barton

Douglas County Master Food Volunteers hand out grilled crostini, prepared by Lark a Fare head chef Chetan Michie, to audience members during the Chefs Challenge on Thursday Aug. 1, 2019, at the Douglas County Fairgrounds.

Fields and Ivy Brewery head chef Kodiak Baer, 22, is a newcomer to Lawrence’s culinary scene, but his ratatouille bars impressed judges and the audience enough to win the Douglas County Fair’s Chefs Challenge Thursday night.

Each year at the fair, chefs compete to prepare a dish using a specific kind of local produce. This year’s featured ingredient was tomatoes, which Douglas County Master Food Volunteer Mary Locniskar said was an easier ingredient to work with than in previous years.

“Some of these ingredients (in the past) have been a bit of a challenge,” Locniskar said. “This year we thought we’d make it easy and do a tomato, but how do you elevate a tomato and make it so unique the judges would really focus in on your dish?”

photo by: Jackson Barton

Kodiak Baer, Fields & Ivy Brewery head chef, poses for photos with his plaque after winning the Chefs Challenge Thursday Aug. 1, 2019, at the Douglas County Fairgrounds.

About 70 people showed up to watch this year’s challenge at the fairgrounds. The lineup of local chefs this year included Baer; Chetan Michie, of Lark a Fare; and Mary Cronemeyer, of Circle S Ranch & Country Inn.

Baer, 22, who moved from Hays to Lawrence three months ago to work as head chef at Fields and Ivy, said he has never had any formal culinary education and has learned from hands-on experience.

“I’ve just kind of learned things through the kitchen and just by watching people,” Baer said.

With help from Pantaleon Florez of Maseualkualli Farms, Baer prepared ratatouille bars — a dish made with gouda shortbread, risotto, ratatouille jelly, mascarpone, goat cheese, locally grown tomatoes and fried basil and topped with edible flowers.

photo by: Jackson Barton

Pantaleon Florez, foreground, sautés ingredients while Kodiak Baer, Fields & Ivy Brewery head chef, gives a presentation to an audience Thursday Aug. 1, 2019, at the Douglas County Fairgrounds.

The competition wasn’t just about the flavor of the chefs’ dishes and how well they incorporated the featured ingredient. While preparing their food, the chefs also had to give an educational presentation on nutrition and local ingredients for the judges and the audience.

“We really knocked it out of the park and gave some people some education about the process,” Baer said.

Baer said he learns something new every time he cooks.

“I can make the same recipe over and over and over,” Baer said. “It’s always changing and I’m always learning.”

photo by: Jackson Barton

Ratatouille bars prepared by Kodiak Baer, Fields & Ivy Brewery head chef, and Pantaleon Florez, of Maseualkualli Farms, are pictured Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019, at the Douglas County Fairgrounds.

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