Traditions Re-Invented

West Virginia’s annual Cast Iron Cook-Off® is an extravaganza that showcases the best of the best in the state’s culinary arts. Teams of “foodies” led by renowned chefs from across West Virginia work diligently to produce original creations that are judged by a panel of nationally and internationally known culinary experts.

Hands busily lay out utensils, shake skillets, and sprinkle seasonings, as each team races a 75-minute clock to produce a delectable, multicourse meal. The challenge: to take traditional recipes and reinvent them in a new, original style using homegrown West Virginia ingredients and cast iron cookware. Onlookers observe the preparations and ask the chefs questions about their recipes and methods.

“The Cast Iron Cook-Off is West Virginia’s premier culinary event,” says Dr. Allen Arnold, the Collaborative for the 21st Century Appalachia’s founding director. “It brings together the region’s finest chefs and their teams in a friendly competition that is ‘eat-ertainment’ at its best. The chefs’ fuse global influences with traditional fare, and everybody uses local ingredients and cooks in cast iron. The result is a ‘New Appalachian Cuisine’ that is a culinary heritage reinvented.”

The mission of the Cast Iron Cook-Off mirrors that of the Collaborative for the 21st Century Appalachia®, a group first envisioned by Arnold as a means of promoting culinary and cultural tourism. By promoting fine Appalachian cuisine made with locally grown ingredients and traditional cookware, the Collaborative aims to showcase Appalachian heritage while supporting local growers, producers, and eateries.

These observations on the cast Iron Cook-Off are excerpted from New Appalachian Cuisine The Cast Iron Cook-Off, an article by Travis Vandal in Wonderful West Virginia, published by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
Travis Vandal is a seventh-grade English teacher and writer who traveled to all 55 counties in West Virginia in 2008. A photograph book of his travels is in the works.