The Austin Chronicle

Citywide 86'd Heats Up

By Brandon Watson, May 19, 2015, 2:30pm, On the Range

Every year, Austin’s generally supportive culinary scene sheds all its niceties. Jewelry comes off, knives come out, and blood flies everywhere. Sure, that blood may be from a humanely raised lamb heart, but the point is that Citywide 86’d gets intense. It’s like the Thunderdome, except Tina Turner isn’t trying to shoot you with a tiny crossbow.

The annual contest follows the same basic format as the Food Network’s Chopped. The three rounds – appetizer, entrée, and dessert – each lead to elimination, tears, and a delightful meal for the judges. A secret society of sadists picks mystery ingredients ranging from Hello Kitty soda to thumbtacks (probably).

Earlier this year, the Escoffier School of Culinary Arts hosted four heated preliminary rounds, selecting Kevin Cannon (Barley Swine), Joel Garza (St. Philip), Claire Helbig (Eden East), and Oscar Yip (Olive & June) as tributes. The early battles are no walk in the park. I was part of the panel that moved Helbig on to the next level. Although the contestants have to be below sous chef level in order to compete, they all have big league talent.

That talent will come in handy when they face the intimidating panel of celebri-chefs – Jason Dady of San Antonio’s Jason Dady Restaurants, Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue, John Tesar of Dallas’ Knife and Oak, and Andrew Wiseheart of Gardner and Contigo – for a chance to stage in a celebrated chef’s kitchen. Last year, Uchiko’s Ben Schwartz took the top spot, winning him a trip to Chicago to work at Grace with chef Curtis Duffy and L20 with chef Matthew Kirkley.

$75 tickets for the June 15 event, held in the Tejas Room of the AT&T Center are available now. Buy one for yourself and another to allow a local farmer or chef to attend.

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