Salisbury -- Gender identification is a tricky business, especially when it is linked to food. If, for example, a big dish of pink chicken were placed in front of you, you would naturally assume that a woman made it. Pink, after all, is for girls and blue is for boys.
That's what I thought when a dish officially called Chicken Royale -- stuffed chicken breasts covered in a raspberry vinaigrette -- was set before me and other judges at the 1992 Delmarva Chicken Cooking Contest held June 6th at the Salisbury Mall.
The dish had good flavor. It was relatively easy to prepare, and was fairly creative. But it gave me the heebie-jeebies.
"It is too pink," I said. And, summoning up all my testosterone, I proclaimed, "It is not manly chicken. No man would go near something that looked like this."
But the other judges voted the dish I called the "Big Pink" as the contest's grand prize winner, giving its creator a seven-day Caribbean vacation for two plus $1,000 and a variety of kitchen equipment and products. The dish bested the chicken dishes prepared by 25 other contestants from 12 Eastern states and the District of Columbia.
I tried to be gracious in defeat. But no sooner had I learned my pique over pigment had failed to sway my fellow jurists than my manly pride was dealt another blow.
During the rating process we judges did not know who made which dish. But once the ballots had been counted, contest officials told us the names of the cooks who had prepared the winning dishes.
It turned out that the grand prize winner was not, as I had suspected, whipped up by some Martha Stewart look-alike. It was made by a guy, Dwight Dewsnap. A guy who drove down to the contest from Brockton, Mass., in a pick-up truck.
I sat at the awards banquet in the University Center of Salisbury State University, waiting to catch a glimpse of this Dwight guy.
I watched as Lynn S. Akers of Salem, Va., went to podium to pick up an honorable mention award for her '90s-style chicken salad made with cashews, curry powder and coconut. She was followed by another honorable mention winner, Gloria T. Bove of Bethlehem, Pa., who made red-peppered raspberry chicken, in which baked chicken legs were covered with sauce made of red pepper flakes and raspberry jam.
Next Barbara Gulino of Portland, Maine, walked up to the podium to accept third place prize for her roast chicken with curried honey mustard sauce.
Then Judith Mettlin of Snyder, N.Y., received applause from the crowd as she collected 2nd place prize for her ginger aromatic chicken. In this dish whole chicken legs were cooked in a frying pan in a sauce made of butter, ginger, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, ketchup and chives.
Finally the maker of the winning dish, Dewsnap, a computer programmer who works in Braintree, Mass., was hailed by the crowd as he walked to front of the room.
As he hurried to receive the award, a contest official said Dewsnap was a graduate of Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., and that he has a bachelor of arts degree in music. En route to the chicken contest, he also supposedly stopped at Atlantic City to gamble. I didn't care about that. I was more interested in what Dwight looked like.
His coat was unbuttoned. His tie loosened. And he was wearing muted colors, nothing pink, or even coral. And he told me that his pick-up truck was the correct color, bright blue. He was, in other words, my kind of guy.
Dwight Dewsnap's Chicken Royale
2 whole broiler-fryer chicken breasts, halved, boned, skinned
1 package (4 ounces) Boursin cheese, quartered
1/2 cup English walnuts, finely chopped
4 large spinach leaves, steamed slightly
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup bottled raspberry vinaigrette dressing
2 tablespoons margarine
Pound chicken to 1/4 -inch thickness using meat mallet or similar flattening utensil. Roll cheese quarters in walnuts. Place one spinach leaf on each breast; top with cheese quarter. Fold chicken around spinach and cheese to form a mound. Sprinkle salt and pepper over chicken. Place chicken in baking pan. Cover and bake in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes until chicken is fork-tender. In small frying pan, mix together wine and raspberry vinaigrette dressing. Cook over medium heat until sauce is reduced by one half, stir in margarine. Pour sauce over chicken. Serve with rice.