Just healthy desserts

Published 1:20 pm Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Whoopee Pie with Berry Sorbet

Whoopee Pie with Berry Sorbet

The very title of the Healthy Dessert Contest sounds oxymoronic. But it’s actually very, very tasty.

Presented by Healthy People Healthy Suffolk, the goal of the contest is to “make the healthy choice the easy choice.” If a healthy dessert is on the menu, the thinking goes, most people will choose it.

The desserts in the spring contest among participating Suffolk restaurants had to adhere to strict rules: fewer than 250 calories, with less than 30 percent of those calories from fat and less than 60 percent from carbohydrates.

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This year’s judges were last year’s winners: Harper Bradshaw of Harper’s Table, Jose Perez of Cedar Point Country Club and Melinda Powers of Suffolk BBQ Co.

There was prize money at stake, too. Each winning chef, profiled in the coming pages, earned a cash prize.

The contest was presented by Healthy People Healthy Suffolk and sponsored by the Obici Healthcare Foundation, Love Local Buy Suffolk, Stop Diabetes, the Suffolk News-Herald, Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community and Suffolk Tourism.

The desserts under consideration included:

  • Al Forno Pizzeria Italian Restaurant — Strawberry Blueberry Sorbet
  • Amici’s — Tiramisu
  • Baron’s Pub — Berry Compote Prosecco Cream
  • East Coast Taco — Angel Food Cake
  • Mosaic — Ginger Agave Panna Cotta
  • The Plaid Turnip — Jumbo Cupcake
  • River Stone Chophouse — Chocolate Meringue
  • Vintage Tavern — Whoopee Pie with Strawberry Sorbet

Judge’s Choice Award

Having grown up on a 16-acre farm in Danville, Kenny Reynolds draws a lot of his inspiration in the kitchen from his grandmother and his mother, who is a pastry chef.

Kenny Reynolds

Kenny Reynolds

His mom is also diabetic, and that influences his cooking at Vintage Tavern.

“I try to make lots of low-cal desserts or low-carb desserts,” Reynolds said.

So the 2015 Healthy Dessert Contest was old hat to him, and it showed. He won the Judge’s Choice Award in the Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community contest.

“I don’t like my desserts to be super-sweet,” he said. But at the same time, he said, he likes to “have fun with dessert.”

That resulted in his Whoopee Pie creation. The pie used whole-wheat pastry flour instead of all-purpose flour and canola oil instead of butter to make it meet the calorie specifications for the contest. It also used a little bit of fruit sorbet to sweeten the deal.

That’s where his grandmother came into the picture. She used to pickle and can everything under the sun, including berries. Reynolds had some of last year’s berries available, because they’d been canned for use at Vintage Tavern.

“Nothing’s really growing out of the ground quite yet,” he said, noting he wouldn’t have had local berries available for use were it not for the canning.

Reynolds said he was pleased to win the Judge’s Choice Award in the contest.

“Seeing their reaction was great, having somebody in the industry respect what you did,” he said.

Presentation Award

For someone who’s “not a big chocolate fan,” Brianca Wolfrey sure does use a lot of it in the dessert she created for the 2015 Healthy Dessert Contest.

Chocolate Meringue with Toasted Hazelnuts and Raspberries

Chocolate Meringue with Toasted Hazelnuts and Raspberries

The beautifully created dessert by River Stone Chophouse’s pastry chef won the Presentation Award from the judges. Wolfrey came up with a chocolate meringue piped into a champagne flute and topped with toasted hazelnuts and raspberries — all for only 202 calories per serving.

The only problem is that, at the end of the dessert, there’s still half a spoonful of chocolate meringue at the bottom of the glass that the spoon is too wide to reach.

Wolfrey got the idea from a cooking show where they were featuring healthy desserts, but the recipe didn’t quite meet the contest’s definition of healthy. She tinkered with the ingredients until she got it under 250 calories.

The meringue is made from the usual egg whites, cream of tartar, sugar, salt and vanilla extract, along with a generous helping of cocoa powder.

Wolfrey says she cooked to help calm herself during stressful times at Elizabeth City State University, where she majored in biology.

Brianca Wolfrey

Brianca Wolfrey

She was studying to become a pediatrician but soon discovered she really wanted to cook for a living.

“It’s something I’m passionate about,” she said. “I think everybody should find their passion.”

The Gates County, N.C., native grew up on soul food but has learned to cook and eat many different things.

“When I went to culinary school, it opened my eyes to different things,” she said. She especially likes Italian, Asian and Indian food.

She has to watch what she eats closely, though, since she is allergic to peanuts and strawberries. She still cooks with them, though, when others are eating it.

“I try to connect with my food,” she said. “Especially when I can’t taste it, I feel my way through it.”

Her ultimate goal is to have her own restaurant, she said. Perhaps the chocolate meringue will be on the menu there.

People’s Choice Award

At first, it didn’t look like Aaron Spring’s creation for the 2015 Healthy Dessert Contest was going to go over very well.

Ginger Agave Panna Cotta

Ginger Agave Panna Cotta

“It was a hard sell at first,” the Mosaic chef said of his Ginger Agave Panna Cotta. But then, “every single one of them that had it loved it.”

So much so, in fact, that they all voted for it to win the People’s Choice Award in the Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community’s contest.

Italian for “cooked cream,” panna cotta is what Spring likes to call an “eggless custard.” Flavored with ginger and topped with agave, a basil salad and grilled oranges, the dessert clocked in at fewer than 100 calories per serving.

Spring said his main motivation for the dessert was using local ingredients and making something home chefs can easily replicate.

But the panna cotta wasn’t his first try. There was a lot of trial and error to figure out what he was going to make, Spring said. It included a sweet potato tamale.

“I just couldn’t get it to work and be under the calorie content,” he said of the tamale. “It was fun to do it. I loved the challenge of it.”

Aaron Spring

Aaron Spring

After serving in the U.S. Army for three years as a chef, most of that time in Korea, Spring enjoys cooking smaller portions. But he still wants it to be exciting for the people who eat his creations.

“I want to take you on a roller coaster ride,” he said. “I want you to not expect it but be thrilled with what you get.”

The panna cotta was a perfect example of that, he said.

“It’s not overly sweet for a dessert,” he said. “So it’s surprising and fulfilling, but without having a sweet ending.”