Making my First Cassoulet

To spice things up in the cold winter months, the Walla Walla Downtown Foundation put on it’s third annual Julia Child Cooking Contest on Feb 19.  I thought it would be a fun challenge, so I signed up.  Each year the dish changes.  One year it was Coq au Vin, the other was Boeuf Bourguignon.  Cassoulet was our Julia Child dish of 2012.

I have never been a big fan of french cooking.  The only interest I’ve ever had of Julia Child is her resemblance to my own grandmother, Emily.  But being passionate about food and all it’s forms, and desire to learn and grow as a chef, I looked forward to learning the process of making a traditional french dish like the cassoulet.

The week prior to the contest, I started my research.  I googled cassoulet, read the history and definition.  I read recipe after recipe.  What seemed to be consistent throughout the documents was this: white beans, duck confit and fat, sausage, and some crumb topping.  Everyone said it was a few days project, averaging around 3 days.

I started the next day, hunting down a fresh local duck, some pork belly, and pork sausage.  Lucky for me, we have a grass-fed butcher in town, Blue Valley Meats.  A call to Christopher and I had pork belly on order.  Also, lucky for me, my friend and fellow chef Greg Schnorr raises his own ducks and pigs, and sells them under his label Red Boar.  He also has Blue Valley make sausage out of his pork.  An email to him secured me a whole peckin duck and eight bratwurst sausages, with a couple chorizo thrown in there for my personal use as well. Yum!

I gathered all my ingredients and started the process.  First, to slow-roast the duck.  Though most recipes called for duck confit, I had no duck fat to work with, until I cooked my duck.  Kinda catch 22.  Slow-roasting allowed for the fat to render beautifully and the duck was soon swimming in a pool of fat.

My Peckin duck ready for dressing and slow-roasting

The pork belly was next.  If I had a smoker I would have used it, but slow-roasting with a coating of salt, pepper and dijon, makes a beautiful final product.  We use this same method at the restaurant for our pork belly tacos.

Cooked Pork Belly

Next step was to soak and cook the beans.  Wanting a rich, deep flavor in the beans and broth, I made a beef bone stock the day prior, to cook the beans in.  Here the beans beginning their cooking process, with some thyme, sage, and duck fat.

The day of the event, I layered the shredded duck, cooked diced Bratwurst sausage and pork belly cubes with layers of cooked beans and sauteed small diced carrot, celery and onion.  I filled the pot with broth 1/2 inch below the top layer of beans.  I then topped it with breadcrumbs, made from olive oil-baked crostini and fresh parsley.

Before going in the oven

The finished cassoulet

The table of cassoulets, ready for judging

Melissa excited to be in another cooking contest


…and from the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation:


The Contestants:

  • Melissa Davis,
  • Carolina Dietsch,
  • Lori Dyer,
  • Sharon Ferraro,
  • Jerry McCarley,
  • Ron Nolte,
  • Theresa Regimbal
  • Denise Slattery

The Judges:

  • Andrae Bopp, Andrae’s Kitchen;
  • Antonio Campolio, The Marc;
  • Jake Crenshaw, Olive Marketplace & Cafe and T. Maccarone’s;
  • Michelle Giannunzio, Bacon & Eggs;
  • Casey Goff, brasserie 4;
  • Brian Hatley, winner Julia Child Cook-Off Part Deux, 2011;
  • Cynthia Hurlbutt, winner Julia Child Cook-Off, 2010;
  • John Lastoskie, Graze – a place to eat;
  • Kory Nagler, Maple Counter Cafe;
  • Chris Teal, Public House 124.


While the judges began their evaluation of each of the eight dishes submitted, the almost 100 guests were encouraged to try the three cassoulet variations by Chef Antonio and enjoy a glass of wine poured by SYZYGY and Three Rivers Winery.

After repeated tastings and some heated discussion, the judges selected their winners.  Third Place went to Theresa Regimbal; Second Place was awarded to Melissa Davis; First Place – a unanimous decision by all ten judges – was given to Sharon Ferraro.

Proceeds from the event were donated to the Salvation Army’s Food Bank Capital Campaign.  Representing the organization, J. Andrew Rodgriguez explained the vision for the new facility which includes cold storage capabilities and a grocery store-like layout along with educational courses to help demonstrate how to cook healthy meals with the foods provided.

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Categories: around walla walla, community projects


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6 Comments on “Making my First Cassoulet”

  1. Stef
    February 29, 2012 at 11:10 am #

    Well…….did u win? It’s is nice to see u in the pic. Hope u won!

    • melissadavisfood
      February 29, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

      Oh, I guess I should have mentioned that part:)
      I will add it to the end of the post now…..

  2. February 29, 2012 at 11:18 am #

    Looks fabulous! And obviously it tasted so, too. Or am I divulging the punchline inthe next installment?

  3. February 29, 2012 at 11:20 am #

    So why didn’t you brag about WINNING in this post?

  4. March 1, 2012 at 8:27 pm #

    You look so pleased, happy and pretty in the WINNING picture! So proud of you! You deserve it!

  5. Steve
    March 7, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

    Nice pictures. Don’t eat the meat but it looks luscious. I hear later on you won 2nd place – Wow!

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