Archive for the 'Cook Offs' Category

Chill Out, It’s only chili….fest!

Fun to the Max

Oy Vey

The last time I made chili, I was getting ready to compete in my first Takedown and I was full of vim, vigor, and confidence. I have been humbled since then by the thought that I am going to be a father soon, and that winning isn’t everything. But, I will remind you all, especially Suarez! (JK) that I won that Chili Takedown!

So I found myself with my friend and partner, Nick at Chelsea Market picking up 50 pounds of good lookin’ beef from Dickson’s Farmstead Meats to use in the NY Chili Fest. I was thinking to myself, Oy Vey and Oy Geuvault – here I am again, carrying a small child’s weight in meat.  They are so committed to local beef at Dickson’s that I have the feeling that they are feeding livestock in the basement.

A side note, I originally did not want to do the Chili Fest. First of all, we were not eligible to win. Winning happens to be a great motivator when standing over two 5 gallon stock pots that steam your face with meat grease. Second, I had grown a little tired of competing. I realize that I prefer organizing a little bit better. When I compete, I stress. It has led to good results, but I end up so spent with a week of my life vanishing into thin air. I kept asking Nick if he seriously wanted to enter, and every time it was an emphatic, “yes!” I begrudgingly ceded. So, with the help from our wonderful sponsor, Brooklyn Brewery, we jumped into the fray with both feet.

All of this was before I realized that I would be hungover at 10 am on this cold Sunday morning attending my adorable 3 year old nephew’s birthday party. I am giving you this photo as proof of his cuteness:

Henry

I told you: cute!

My nephew’s birthday was so chaotic, fifteen children can feel like thirty as they all run around an indoor padded room full of  climbing gear. All the padded foam started to look like pillows, perfect pillows to lay my head and prepare for the afternoon of reckoning. It is funny how a child’s laughter can sound like both angels singing and screaming. Fine line, my friends.  But the early wake up call was going to make it tough to keep up my strength for a four hour contest. It was like a freakin’ marathon.

I was hungover because it was one of my best friends’ birthdays and she threw a terrific party the night before – Open Bar, is she crazy!? I forgot to mention that I catered the party, so not only was I making chili, but I was also elbow deep in chopped liver and gravlox – and NO I was not going to a Shivah. All this contributed to me feeling stretched thin. I felt terrible because I couldn’t gather the strength to really help with the chili during the week the way I normally would have.

Okay, so I already told you that we could not win (since Brooklyn Brewery was sponsoring the event). Yet, just entering a contest makes you want to win. We secretly hoped for a massive write in candidacy effort like the recent Senate election in Alaska. As it came closer to lifting the ladle to serve, my competitive juices started flowing.

Happy-ish

The biggest challenge for Nick and I when we compete together is: who’s judgment to trust more?  Whose recipe are we going to rely on? Chili is a very personal expression. We ended up making “The Chili Experiment” or “The Kitchen Sink Chili.” I think we ended up with 42 different ingredients none of which were beans (this makes Nick very happy, he is more of a meat-ist). To be honest, I think that 31 of the ingredients might have been Nick’s. We just make chili very differently. I do think our Experiment was a success. I thought it was well balanced and very flavorful and very rich, almost an umami bomb. The toppings we devised, I think tempered the richness and made for a complete bite. Each helping was topped with a cilantro, white bean, and garlic puree, and a fried jalapeno chip.

Need Air

We did have our fans and the longest line. I think we could have come close to winning with this gut-bomb of a chili.  It was delicious and a crowd-pleaser.  I did not taste all the other competitors out there, which sucks because that was one of the  main reasons I was excited to compete. We did’nt have time. It was go from the moment it started. I was so worn out by the end, I don’t care if I ever eat chili again. Well, at least for right now.

To all my friends who compete in the Food Experiments: Bravo! I could not believe how many times I had to describe the dish, my jaw hurt from talking and I’m a neurotic Jew from central casting. As we got on the subway to home, I turned to my wife and told her that I was not going to talk for the duration of the evening. I kept my promise.

Please, Empty

The Holiday Experiment is coming to town!

Is it already that time of year? When friends drink too much, speak too loudly, and eat too much….HELL YEAH! It’s time for another Experiment. My friends, and the five others who read this blog, The Holiday Experiment is around the corner. All the chefs have signed up and tickets are selling like gingerbread scented hot cakes.

By the way, I do not like holiday flavorings! It must stop. I do not want gingerbread flavored coffee or egg nog ice cream. Fucking Disgusting! Pumpkin Bread, Pumpkin Muffins, Pumpkin Donuts, Pumpkin Lattes (How do you know you’re from the sticks? Pumpkin Latte – really!), Pumpkin Cocktails, Pumpkin Shit, Pumpkin Dreams, STOP IT! STOP IT NOW! I do not need the melding of cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and mace mixed into everything that goes into my mouth. My family’s holiday tradition is to make great tasting normal food and cook a friggin’ pumpkin pie for dessert!

Did I tell you yet about the Holiday Experiment? I cannot wait. It is going to be fantastic. The entries look awesome, and yes there are some special pumpkin/gingerbread flavored items, BUT I’m sure these will be delicious! I am proud to say that Brooklyn Brewery is our sponsor, so beer will be flowing. Good Beer, NOT PUMPKIN BEER!

Oh, and for all you cheap bastards who constantly ask to be put on the guest list, try winning some tickets for a change – Follow us on Twitter and you might be selected to win a free ticket. Random drawing is Friday, November 26th.

holiday-fizz

my cat getting festive

The Roots, the roots, the roots are on Fire!!!

Another Experiment behind us, how was it for you?

The Brooklyn Roots Experiment begs the question: Why was this Experiment different from all other Experiments?
-Well, Bobby Steingoldschwartz, we held it in a new location: The Invisible Dog Gallery and it made a huge difference. I give all the props in the world to The Bell House and the GM. They always make the trains run on time. So, we did it in a new space and… it felt like the first time, like an Experiment Virgin touched for the very first time.

First, the space – have any of you been to The Invisible Dog Gallery? It is beautiful, light and airy, windows lining the walls. It worked perfectly for the event. We had planned a smaller more intimate Experiment and the space worked to our advantage.  The rough wood floors gave the room warmth, the event had a friendlier vibe as a result.

But isn’t it really about the Food? Isn’t it always about the food? The Brooklyn Roots Experiment was a different type of theme for us, a little ambiguous to some contestants. Normally, we name an ingredient and say, “go!”  Originally, we got a lot of entries for root dishes featuring beet, carrots, potatoes, it started to sound like a Russian Widows Convention. Anyway, The Brooklyn Roots Experiment was three fold. One could either make a dish using an ingredient grown in Brooklyn, make a dish featuring a product made in Brooklyn, or create a dish that best represents Brooklyn. As I said, it is all about The ROOTS baby!

polisk potluck

Team Lei-mo's Polish Potluck

respect to brooklyn's greatest rapper (sorry lil' kim)

Once everyone got the theme right, the dishes couldn’t have been better. All the chefs have learned to season like a pro. I was initially worried because so many people had last minute wholesale changes to their dish. Yet, the people with last minute updates ending up winning the majority of the prizes. As usual, I loved Roopa’s dish. She is a very talented baker who should probably quit her day job. I cannot say enough about Jill Strominger’s dish. It was very tasty and so well balanced. As I told her, after reading her entry – I was really worried. The ice cream she made could go on just about anything: Horseradish cream cheese Ice Cream – Fantastic! Andrey did his usual mad scientist work. This time, he really hit a cord in my memory. His salmon pastrami cheesecake tasted like a canape my mom used to make from my youth that I just loved. I do not have the time to highlight all the wonders, the home made reindeer hot dog (are you kidding me) unbelievable, fresh made tortellini, braised brisket. And don’t forget the winner’s steak and potatoes – perfectly cooked! Like Butter!

Beet It

Just Beet It - Beet Bread Pudding

Andrey applying the final touches to his salmon pastrami cheesecake

And who was left responsible for judging these amateur culinary masters? A panel of geniuses the likes of which we have never seen. We had Melissa Clark from The New York Times, Frank Castronovo of Frankies 457, Ed Levine of Serious Eats, and Sheri Eisenburg of The Food Lovers Guide to Brooklyn. Wow. I was impressed with how nice and accommodating they were. I cannot thank them enough. We even had a surprise guest who declined to judge, but enjoyed the food.  Wylie Dufrense showed up with two sous chef in tow. They sampled the wares and gave a a thrill to some of our talented cheftestants. The judges left discussing the difficulty in choosing just one winner.

wylie and crew

Wylie and his crew hang out

Erin with her Reindeer Pølse

The best part of the event: The winner, John Husby, donated his entire prize to Ovarian Cancer Research which is a charity very dear to my wife’s and my heart.

more Brooklyn Roots photos

No Sleep till the Brooklyn ROOTS Experiment

Brooklyn Roots

It wasn’t until the Village Voice said that it had been six months since our last experiment did I realize that it had been that long. So I am excited to announce that the next experiment is literally around the corner, Sunday, September 12th. Since the last food crazed meat sweat feast, I got married, and NO, it was not the Wedding Experiment for all those wondering. Though, I did cater the damn thing. I guess it has been a life altering six months. I still owe one of my faithful readers an account of the honeymoon (just info about the food people – how sick do you think I am?).  Since the last experiment, I have also taken a new job as kitchen manager. So, life is changing rapidly.

I am really excited to get back into action. This is the first time the Experiment will not be at the Bell House, which will be a new challenge for Nick and me. I had become accustomed to Will’s effortless management. At the same time, I am looking forward to seeing the event in a different setting. We are setting up on the third floor in a gallery/loft in Cobble Hill, The Invisible Dog Art Center.

Plus the theme is slightly different for us. No single ingredient to inspire the chefs, but an entire borough: Brooklyn. From the red sauce joints and kielbasa kitchens of yesteryear, to Chinese food and Tacos from Sunset Park. Brooklyn is New York’s most diverse food destination.

The Brooklyn Roots Experiment is the latest in our series of successful competitive cooking events. It is part of Farm City Fair, a day-long celebration of local food and art, which is part of the fall festival of the French Institute Alliance Francaise. Our amateur chefs will be making creative dishes featuring ingredients grown or made in Brooklyn or inspired by the history of Brooklyn.

I hope to see you there…and for everyone who searches my blog for picture of cats with cheese on their head…

Cat Cheese Head

fizz au gratin

Like This!

Forced Out Of Retirement

Just when I thought it was safe…they pull me back in!!!

I last competed in the cassoulet competition, and I said that would be it. I retired on top. I thought I would give Nick Suarez a chance to shine. Retirement has been great, early bird specials, pant suits, and forgetting the past. As Rocky did in number IV, I am coming out of retirement one last time. Instead of staring down Ivan Drago – I have Nick Suarez back in my sights.

Nick and I will be going head to head this Sunday (tomorrow) at the Taste of Williamsburg.    We won’t be the only ones, there will be over 30 other restaurants coming out for a good cause – a community center for the neighborhood. A refuge for those afraid of hipsters.  It will be this Sunday from noon to 4 on north 11 st in front of Brooklyn Brewery.

Maybe you saw the write up in the New York Post. Yes- I have everything to lose, but that is how the life of a champion must be. The lone gunslinger coming back to town for one last job he’s got to do. It is different this time – I am getting married and their are more important priorities. But it doesn’t matter – I am coming back to win.

p.s. what am I making? corned beef hash with deviled egg…

The Devil and Corn Beef Hash

Brunch Experiment – The Day After…

Closing

Closing Ceremonies

The Brunch Experiment was a success. How do I know? Because I taste every dish! And all of the dishes had that special something. It makes me sound like a sap – doesn’t it? But I guess I just have a big heart, I hope this is not a sign of an enlarged heart. Though to be honest, after going through 20 dishes of increasing cholesterol counts I thought Lipitor should be our sponsor.

Judging is Serious Business

Judging is Serious Business

If you weren’t there you missed some real successful experiments. Righteous Burn won the audience prize again, but they better be careful with the trash talk. They might be getting a little big for their peg legs. They wanted to challenge Nick and I to an Experiment. I will tell you right now that we would make them walk the plank! Still, we love the pirates. Plus, they had one of the best “acceptances” I have experienced, karate kicks and all.  And they broke an “indestructible”  Le Creuset pan in the process. The one I wanted to steal for myself!! How could they?

The Winner’s List:

Audience Award

Who Couldn't Love This Man?

Who Couldn't Love This Man?

1st Place: #13  Righteous Burn – The Righteous Kentucky

  • $150 cash
  • 2 round-trip tickets from JetBlue Airways
  • Dish featured at Rose Water restaurant
  • Gold Medal
Pig & Fig

Pig & Fig

2nd Place: #15 Team Vail – Juliana’s Pig and Fig Quiche

  • Brunch for 4 at Rose Water + $100 cash
One & Sup

One & Sup

3rd Place: #18 One and Supp – Pork Hash Tamales

  • $50 Whisk gift certificate + $50 cash

Judges Awards

Wanna Spoon?

Wanna Spoon?

1st Place: #20 Wanna Spoon? – Breakfast Cupcakes

  • Cuisinart Stand Mixer

Mixer

The mixer everyone was drooling over

Bacon Marmalade

Redneck Caviar - Bacon Marmalade

2nd Place: #16 Redneck Caviar – Duck Confit and Bacon Marmalade Donuts

  • Brunch for two at Diner
Working Class Foodie in da House

Working Class Foodie in da House

3rd Place: #11 Working Class Foodies – Buttermilk Waffle Bread Pudding

  • $50 Bark Hot Dogs Gift certificate + T-shirt
  • 3 pounds Plowshares coffee

Nick & Theo Prize’s

Jeffrey is a Hooligan

Jeffrey is a Hooligan

Nick Prize:#9  Jeffrey Olsen –  Mad Tea Party

  • One year supply of dairy courtesy of Organic Valley
No One Works Harder

No One Works Harder

Theo Prize: #7  Andrew Food – Full Brunch

  • One night stay at Le Parker Meridien Hotel and brunch for two at Norma’s

We all know their winner’s dishes were fantastic, but what about the others? The beauty of an Experiment over other competitions is that the chefs go out on a limb, they strive to be innovative… God bless them.

Andrey's Exploding Quiche

Andrey's Exploding Quiche

Andrey as usual tested the limits and surprisingly missed the cut. From word of mouth, I thought he had a chance to place.

Team Philomena

Team Philomena

Team Philomena had a really strong entry, their Italian pastry was very well executed and the acidic lemon glaze was very very good – memorable. Also, my hats off to new comer Andrew Winkler. Even though he did not win, I was impressed with his fried chicken. It is so hard to make anything fried for these events. They generally end up greasy and limp, not so for Winkler- good job.

Babes Who Brunch

Babes Who Brunch

I also would like the recipe for the bread pudding from the Babes Who Brunch. I am not joking Emily. That was great. It was so dense which I like. Actually, Knowlton gave it a thumbs up as well, so close Babes! I was upset because it was one of my last bites and I was so full that I did not have room to appreciate it fully.

When it comes down to it. I am just a fan of the chefs. I like seeing them frazzled, getting ready. I am sorry that some of my sentimental favorites did not get to the podium like Lei-Mo. They are just the nicest people. Plus, we had a new competitor this time who normally covers the event for the Village Voice. She was finally on the other side of the camera, it was awesome to see how into it she got.

Last but not least, I want to thank DJ Workhorse, aka Johnny Con Carne, aka Serious Business Taco, aka Schnapp. What a virtuoso! He made a  playlist of categorized gastronomic songs complete with a printed menu! It is a must read.

Johnny Con Carne

DJ Johnny Con Carne

Fiancee Deserves Some Credit

Fiancee Deserves Some Credit

Lots more pics are up on the Food Experiment’s Flickr page.

Cochon 555 – Felt so good, at least it did yesterday…

After seeing the hordes stuffing themselves with pig and drink, I am relieved to know that the all important health care bill passed in the House. I had the great honor of being a judge at the Cochon 555 event. For the uninitiated, we are talking about a premier professional cooking competition.  Why 555? 5 Wines! 5 Chefs! 5 Pigs!

I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I started this amateur cook off thing as a diversion and now I am getting fed by some of the best chefs in New York for free!. Who knew being broke could be so fun, yeah! I must thank Brady Lowe. I did not even get a chance to introduce myself, which is probably a good thing because at some point in the evening I became shit-faced.  I do not get belligerent, just chatty, loud, and an inflated sense of my sense of humor – make sense? When did I become such a light weight? I only drank 5 cups of beer, 5 glasses of wine, 5 infused whiskeys. I appreciate that I got to eat before going down the devil’s path.

Using both hands for optimal drinking

Using both hands for optimal drinking

Unlike other events I have judged there was a lot of fan fare. We were sequestered to a side room where we sat a huge frickin table. It looked like a table from a 15th century castle: good/bad – I don’t know. When I looked around the room, everyone I saw was a big part of NYC food culture. Rachel Wharton of Edible Manhattan and Brooklyn, Mylan da butcher, Josh Ozersky of the internet, etc. I had the luck of sitting next to Garrett Oliver the brewmaster of Brooklyn Breweries. The man knows his beer, he is no bullshit. Plus, I didn’t realize how much he cooked.

But it is all about the food, each chef had a pig and was judged on Utilization, Presentation, and Taste. They all had their strengths. In my opinion, there was a clear winner. First to present was Michael Canora of Hearth.

Canora - Hearth

Canora - Hearth

He gave us the pig from nose to tail. He utilize the entire beast from fried heart and kidney risotto to a wonderful chocolate ravioli. There were at least 8 tastes on that plate. Second came Corwin Kave of Fatty Cue which I thought of as an odd move went with one dish to sum it all up. Bold move!

Fatty Cue

Corwin Kave - Fatty Cue

I thought it was a wonderful dish, but I think he suffered coming right on the heals of Canora. I was really looking forward to seeing what Mark Ladner of Del Posto had in store, but I became worried when  he showed up with one dish as well. My dream of pigging out on pig seemed in doubt.  Ladner’s dish was a memorable 100 layer lasagna, packed with porkiness. The texture of the pasta undeniably perfect. The dish was served cold, on purpose, but I felt that left it slightly underseasoned. I missed the pork’s unctuousness.  It was served atop a intense tomato ‘sauce’. Arriving fourth, was Gavin Kaysen who won my second place vote.

GAVIN KAYSEN – Café Boulud

GAVIN KAYSEN – Café Boulud

A great and diverse selection of pork, his best work, I thought, was his charcuterie. His pork pie put Myers to shame, no HP sauce necessary!

They saved the best for last with Adam Kaye of Blue Hill at Stone Barns.

Adam Kaye of Blue Hill at Stone Barns

A little back story, I worked with Adam when I was at Blue Hill. He was actually my boss.  Oh how the tables have turned. I promised to be impartial once I saw him on the Chef list. I am not ass-kissing when I say I know how well he cooks.

Face Bacon

Face Bacon

Fried Baloney

Adam Kaye's Fried Baloney

He had me at fried baloney. He has the ability to bring together unique combinations with flawless technique. His pate had a unexpected lightness that worked well with the crisp bitter chocolate wafer. Mazel Tov Adam – yours was the best.

As for the rest of the evening – drinking – oy vey 😦


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