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Luck of the Irish

When it comes to Irish cooking, Gary Chinberg is “Mr. Irish” or, this year, he might be “Mr. Irish Potato.”

Chinberg’s “Heavenly Irish Potato Casserole” had the judges of the 2010 Troy University Irish Cooking Contest taking a second and third “taste” and everyone else crowding the table to get to the casserole.

Chinberg of Troy seemingly can’t be beaten when it comes to Irish cooking. Each year he rises above the competition and takes home the most “green” ribbons.

Chinberg was named the overall winner of the 2010 competition at the Trojan Center Monday. He also took first prize in the main entrees and the side dishes categories and third place in the dessert category.

Deb Gearhart won the Irish green ribbon in breads and Lindsay Pierce was the first-place winner in the dessert category. Donna Hogan took top honors in the salad/appetizer category and also placed second in breads. Sams Elebash placed third in the dessert category.

Chinberg modestly accepted the accolades for his innovative entries and willingly shared his recipes, not withholding a “secret” ingredient from any of them.

“I just enjoy cooking and competing,” Chinberg said. “My wife got me interested in the Irish Cooking Contest several years ago, and I always enjoy it and look forward to it.”

Chinberg learned the culinary art from his grandmothers –one, Irish and the other a Swede.

“Both of them are great cooks, and my Swedish grandmother asks when am I going to enter a Swedish cooking contest,” Chinberg said, laughing. “But I really enjoy the Irish Cooking Contest because of the history and legends associated with the Irish.”

The stories and lore of the Emerald Isle fascinate Chinberg and he has a story that is associated with each of his entries.

More than 300,00 people travel to Ireland each year to kiss the Blarney Stone in hopes of gaining more eloquent speech. Chinberg’s Blarney Stone Brownies are magical stones but kissing them may render one speechless rather than eloquent.

“Bet you can’t kiss just one,” the award-winning Irish cook said, laughing.

His Irish Potato Casserole is “fit” for the Nuns of Kylemore Abby, the oldest of the Irish Benedictine Abbeys. And those lucky enough to dine on the casserole should “count their blessings.”

Chinberg’s first-place entrée was described as a leprechaun’s delicacy but it was a yeoman’s task to get the Beef Log from the Mystical Mountain of Mourne to the table.

“A brisket is hard to work with,” Chinberg said. “I marinated it for three days, then rubbed it with a spicy mixture and chilled it for about 36 hours. I removed the spicy mixture and covered the meat with sliced mushrooms and bacon slices to keep it moist. Then, I rolled it into a tight log and tied it using market strings and cooked it slow for about three hours.”

Chinberg wasn’t sure how the brisket would be “accepted” but an empty platter was a good indication that the Beef Log has passed the taste test.

“This was again a wonderful event,” said Bronda Barron, event coordinator. “The food is always delicious and innovative, and I’m amazed at the creativity of the cooks. The Irish Cooking Contest is always a lot of fun. I want to thank all of those who participated and John Parker and Diane Barker for agreeing to judge the contest. I know it was not easy because all of the dishes were fantastic.”