Cassoulet King! Still Humble?

Cassoulet - the starting line

Cassoulet - the starting line

Does that picture qualify as food porn? I heard the term ‘food porn’ will soon be eliminated – finally. Although it makes me kind of sad is that I never had a chance to use it.

When I saw the announcement for last year’s Cassoulet competition I was too late to sign up. To say it saddened me would be an understatement. It actually pissed me off. A year ago, I had just started to get a taste for competition, like blood to a prepubescent vampire. A year later, what a change my life has taken – Jimmy emailed me to let me know the cassoulet contest was coming up and asked me to enter. I was honored.  Jimmy is a great guy and I love Jimmy’s 43.  I was upset I missed the deadline last time because I really enjoy making cassoulet. I think I used that frustration as inspiration for this year’s event, and worked twice as hard.

Maybe, I tried twice as hard because I have a reputation to uphold, or I would like to retire from competitive cooking on top, like Barry Sanders. Whatever the reason, I worked hard and won against some meaty competition. Before I get to my dish, first, let me remind everyone that we all had come out in support of the Greenmarket, and second, let me espouse on the specialness of others…

Peter Hoffman and Daughter

Peter Hoffman and Daughter

Many familiar faces were in the line up. Some new to competing, but familiar none the less. Peter Hoffman, of Back Forty and Savoy, and his daughter were stationed near me.  It is no surprise that he came out to support the Greenmarket; he has made a real difference in the way New York eats. He was the Greenmarket Chef a decade before anyone else. He made a great cassoulet, tender rabbit, balanced beans, and crunchy bits. Yet, I was distracted, not by his wonderful cassoulet, but by his great looking cast iron vessels/kettles – not sure what to call them. I started to covet my neighbors cookware. I started dreaming of having that cookware, dreaming of a hearth to set it upon, dreaming of a fiancee who eats meat so I can make stew in them.  At least, I know what is going to be the first item we register for. (On a side note, please feel free to pick and pay for any item off our future registry.)

Of course, Cathy Erway was in attendance. What would a cook-off be without her? like the sky without blue. She plunked down a beautiful canary yellow le creuset pot containing a Moroccan themed cassoulet with dates and curry. I thought it was a great entry. Across the way from me was Tom Harvey and son with one of the most surprising and delicious entries. A newbie to the cook-off scene, I hope he intends to stay. He is the nicest guy – came over the table and handed my Fiancee and me a bowl. He was so humble, like really humble – not my fake humble. Couldn’t put the bowl down, it was salty with a strong tomato base. The goose was tender and he did not screw around – he brought two matching orange le creuset  pots. I think the real winner of this contest was Le Creuset. Everyone was using one. I was distracted by the colors. It might be stupid to say, but they make the prettiest pots and I think that makes anything inside taste better by a factor of 10. By the way, my creuset was baby blue and Nick’s was vibrant green.

I was really disappointed I did not get to try everyone’s dish. In particular, I missed Ms. Feigenbaum’s. I get so wrapped up in serving everyone that I sometime forget to eat. She won 1st Place in the very important category – audience’s choice. I feel that is what it is all about, winning the audience.

He's the one with the beard

He's the one with the beard

My toughest competition tends to come from Nick, Nick Suarez. He is not only my rival, but partner in thefoodexperiments. It is always bittersweet to compete against one another, at least that is what I think. I want to beat him, and at the same time I would like to see him do well. Second place is doing well – right? Anyway, his dish was very good and it had the Suarez hallmark of richness. It was rich, properly seasoned, and I kept wanting to eat more. He topped it with some great duck “crispies.”

As for my dish, it was a simple affair. I made two sausages: lamb crepinettes which are made from braised lamb shoulder pressed and wrapped in caul fat and

Lamb Crepinettes

Lamb Crepinettes

duck and roast garlic sausage. I added a little cream, eggs, and poached them in red wine. They had great flavor.

Staged Shot - Theo Peck drinks red wine while making duck sausage - how edgy

Staged Shot - Theo Peck drinks red wine while making duck sausage - how edgy

For the beans, I cooked them in two reinforced stocks, mushroom and lamb. Once the beans were cooked and they were ready to bake, I added duck fat, salt, shiitake mushrooms, a bit of both sausages, and a puree of garlic, bean, cream, duck fat. I also cut up and placed a smoke / roasted pork belly to the beans.

Bastin Belly

Bastin Belly

The belly I got from butchering a pig at The Queens Farm Museum.

To top this meat-acular beast – kale, of course. I needed something to make this potential gut bomb lighter. I realize that you cannot spell cassoulet without gut bomb, but the crispiness is an essential characteristic. I made kale chip in a low oven and crumbled them with some garlic, lemon, duck fat, and butter.

I was nervous throughout the day, the judging panel was GOOD. It wasn’t a slouch panel. It is another reason to work hard and make the best dish. I presumed they would have high expectations, and as they grilled me on my cassoulet I knew they meant business. They all had the credentials. Chef Matt Weingarten of Inside St. Barts, Josh Ozersky – the Original Mr. Cutlets, Alex Van Buren – accomplished food writer, and Betty Fussell – also an accomplished food writer…so it was an honor and surprise that they called me out for first place. It has been a long time since I felt the joy of victory and I plan on savoring it.

Thank You

Thank You

Success

Success

There are plenty more photos over at metromix.  Take care all, I plan on writing a recipe post soon.

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4 Responses to “Cassoulet King! Still Humble?”


  1. 1 Ted January 19, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    Long live the KING!

  2. 2 Madeleine January 19, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    I did NOT get my cassoulet from the winner,….eh hem…. Cause mid way through the event he ran out of FOOD!

    whattupwit dat? can we have another sampling, Theo? Sausage was tasty, but would like to savor the complete package,….

    Good to leave people wanting more, but really.

  3. 3 TEDDY January 19, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    Hey Madeleine,

    Sorry to hear you didn’t get any. I blame it on the people who came back for seconds and thirds. I will know better for next time.

  4. 4 Karin January 28, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    Heard the word cassoulet in Julie and Julia and knew what it was. Congrats on your win!


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