Last night, four chefs – Joel Garza of St. Philip, Claire Helbig of Eden East, Oscar Yip of Olive & June, and Kevin Cannon of Barley Swine – crossed pans, locked knives, and waged war with each mystery ingredient (and each other) in a battle to win Citywide 86’d.
Under the judgment of culinary kings Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue, Jason Dady of San Antonio’s Jason Dady Restaurants, John Tesar of Dallas’ Knife and Oak Restaurant, and Andrew Wiseheart of Gardner and Contigo, Garza emerged victorious and took home the crown and honor of champion.
As part of his winnings, Garza received the opportunity to stage in San Francisco’s Aster, under Executive Chef Brett Cooper, and a $2250 educational travel grant from the Wine & Food Foundation of Texas. He also received an interesting array of prizes much like the intriguing mix of mystery ingredients in each round – including a Mission Restaurant Supply engraved stock pot, Cricker’s cricket flour, and a GelPro Comfort Elite floor mat.
For those who are new to the Citywide 86’d concept, it follows the same format as Food Network’s Chopped. Four chefs pit their skills and unrivalled creativity to create a dish that will impress the judges. There are three timed rounds – appetizer, entrée, and dessert – and the competitor who falls behind each round gets 86’d. The catch is: Not only are they judged based on the components of presentation, taste, and level of difficulty, the chefs face a bag of four mystery ingredients that are usually unfamiliar and incompatible. Helbig and Yip were chopped in the first and second round respectively, leaving Garza and Cannon to fight it out in the dessert round.
The mystery ingredients at the finale were typically difficult:
Appetizer: squab (a “difficult game bird,” explained announcer Zach Knight), orange chile de arbol marmalade, green plums, and micro shiso
Entrée: papalo, pineapple syrup, geoduck (pronounced as gooey-duck), and purple & green beans
Dessert: uni, Black Jacque madeira (sealed with wax, which had the final two chefs fumbling for a good minute to get it open), black garlic, and prickly pears
As if the ingredients and competition format weren’t riveting enough, attendees at the AT&T Center were treated to small bites provided by Greenhouse Craft Food, Barley Swine, Cafe Josie, Swift’s Attic, Trace, Uchi, Uchiko, Olive & June, St. Philip, Celtic Seafare, Eden East, and the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. There were also wines, ciders from Austin Eastciders, and gins available.
Even though I had to haul myself away from Greenhouse’s sweet corn succotash with lamb’s quarters and bacon lardon (only to be lured back to Escoffier’s cappuccino brownies), I still managed to get a prime viewing spot in front of the chefs and judges.
It was watching a cooking competition TV show unfold live – the chefs running and scurrying past each other, the judges and cameramen peering in as they cooked, and the announcer interjecting it all with quips about the ingredients. You could see the chefs sweating, hear their hurried calling out of “Time please?” in crescendo as time dwindled down, and watch in amazement as they presented their masterpieces at the end of each round. This year’s event was a blast for all, and we are excitedly awaiting next year’s edition.
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