The PB&J Goes Upscale

Coeur d'Alene chef Adam Hegsted has taken his Spanish version of a lunchbox staple to Napa Valley and New York

This is the story of a sandwich that took its creator on an incredible journey. The adventure began last summer when Chef Adam Hegsted of Coeur d'Alene's Brix restaurant decided to enter the Taste of Spain culinary competition. The contest required the use of  Spanish products; Adam decided to use manchego, a sheep's milk cheese, marcona almonds and jamon, a dry-cured Spanish ham. His creation, Marcona-Almond Crusted Jamon and Manchego Sandwich with Fig Jam, paid homage to lunchbox fare, but took the flavors to new heights.

This sandwich recipe traveled, via the Internet, to New York and was dropped into a pool of 600 entries from professional chefs nationwide. A culinary team in the Big Apple narrowed the field to 20 recipes. Hegsted’s recipe made the cut. The 20 recipes were prepared, and tasters narrowed the list to 10. The Northwest’s Spanish-style PBJ/grilled ham and cheese was still in the running.

The 10 recipes flew (again via Internet) to the Copia Center for Food and Wine in Napa Valley to be prepared and tasted by another chef team. The top four recipes were selected, and the chef from Brix restaurant in little Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, received an invitation to prepare his sandwich in New York at the French Culinary Institute. A very big honor.

“When I arrived in New York, I was treated like a VIP. They picked me up in a black towncar with tinted windows and drove me to a luxury hotel in the U.N. Plaza. I stayed 35 floors up on the skyline of New York,” Hegsted recalls.

The competition was on. Hegsted found himself vying for victory with two chefs from New York and one from California. “I love to compete,” he says flatly. “Partly because it pushes me to a different level. It makes you think about things a little differently,” he adds. “Maybe it’s just the way you put things together on a plate, or how you could have done something a little better.”

Marcona-Almond-Crusted Jamón and Manchego Sandwich with Fig Jam was awarded third place. Instead of worrying about not placing first, Hegsted relished the chance to prepare his dish in competition. “There is so much you can learn from competing if you listen. Some people get mad when they lose or don’t get first place, but that is truly where you can learn the most.”

Hegsted is well known for culinary competitions in the region, having won the Battle of the Chefs last spring in Spokane and several Mardi Gras Cook-Offs in Coeur d’Alene. “Every day is sort of competition for me. It's a competition to keep my customers, or just do a better job. It's about trying to be the best."

We’ve asked Hegsted to lighten his creation for InHealthNW. I admire him as a chef because he knows instinctively how to create healthier fare. Try his creation for yourself or learn first hand by joining one of Adam’s cooking classes — see for details.

Recipe for a healthier Marcona Almond, Serrano Ham and Manchego Cheese Sandwich with Fig Jam

This version of Adam Hegsted's award-winning sandwich cuts the calorie count of the original by 650 calories and uses a fraction of the fat, all while retaining the same flavor profiles.

1 ounce of dried figs (stemmed and mined)
1/2 cup sherry wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons sugar

Put figs, vinegar and sugar into small sauce-pan. Bring to simmer on medium heat. Let liquid reduce till almost gone and mixture is sticky. Mash or puree in small food processor, adding a teaspoon or two of water if mixture is too thick.

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons toasted, ground Marcona almonds (regular blanched almonds can be substituted; toast and grind in coffee grinder or food processor before measuring)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
pinch of salt, if desired

Blend together with mortar and pestle.

2 Tablespoons shredded Manchego cheese from Spain (available at Huckleberry's)
2 slices peasant-style bread or whole wheat bread
1.5 ounces thin-sliced Serrano ham (prosciutto is an acceptable substitute)

Drizzle one slice of bread with one-fourth of almond mixture. Sprinkle with shredded cheese and place Serrano ham on top. Spread 1-2 Tablespoons of fig jam on the other slice of bread. Put bread together so toppings and fillings are in the middle. Grill in non-stick pan sprayed with thin coat of oil, about four minutes per side.

NUTRITION NOTES: 326 calories, 33% of calories from fat, 12 g total fat, 40 g carbohydrates, 17 g protein, 5 g fiber

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