Saturday, September 22, 2012

8th Annual Chef Showdown!

Hey Folks! This week, we have another great post by Anna!!!

The 8th Annual Chef Showdown is an annual charity that is a unique culinary event to raise funds for the programs and services of Center for Community Solutions (CCS). CCS is a local nonprofit organization that “provides prevention and intervention support for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and elder abuse”.

The setup of the event features an Iron Chef style competition between two teams creating dishes to compete against one another with a panel of judges comparing the dishes side by side. Surrounding this featured event are booths from over 25 restaurants and wines.

Since there was a lot going on during this event, I’ll be going over the highlights of the food I’ve tasted from numerous booths and some information about the main event.

The Vietnamese sandwich inspired appetizer by Café Japengo intrigued me a lot, because I grew up eating Vietnamese sandwiches from a little shop near my house. I'm typically critical about Asian fusion foods, but this one was surprisingly good. I really enjoyed the soft, juicy, and tender meatball made with pork, carrots, onions, garlic, red pepper, and fish sauce that was complimented by the crispy cabbage, carrots, cucumber slices with sesame seeds and tasty bun. I was really surprised how well the fish sauce flavor was incorporated into the meat. It was tasty and not overpowering at all. The only thing I wished for was the cabbage being a bit more pickled than how they had it, because that would make it a complete reminder of the typical sandwich, but it's good to be different!

The Paella by San Diego Paella was tasty with the nice saffron and Spanish seasoned el dente rice topped with the perfectly cooked shrimp and tasty chicken. The dish also contained clams and scallops, but I was not fortunate enough to try it. Either way, the dish was very tasty!

The "charred cobia 'sashimi'" by Kitchen 1540 had a quick description of: "dashi celery root, burnt nori, sea lettuce, rice crispy" on a sign. I was also told it was fois gras infused. I don't remember tasting any of that typical buttery yet liver tasting flavor on anything, but overall I thought the dish was quite interesting! The cobia 'sashimi' tasted more like a seared mini fish filet, but it came out really tasty. I can't put into words how the each component tasted like, but I loved how this bite came together. It was very tasty and I liked the different textures from smooth and creamy dollops, slippery nori, the cobia slice, and the crispy rice.

There were two things from the Barrio Star stand that I loved! One was this spicy mango drink that I would've loved to add some tequila in. The other was the tortilla soup that was ridiculously tasty that I forgot to take a picture of it and not only that but I had to devour all of it despite how full I was. The soup had nice bits of tomato, corn, and cotija and a broth that was deliciously savory with a hint of spice... oh I wish I had more of it now.

The chocolate and almond covered strawberry from Shari’s Berries was tasty! A sweet and juicy deep red strawberry surrounded by a thick layer of chocolate topped with almonds! How can you say no to that? They also had different varieties and cake pops with a chocolate cake filling similar to a brownie that sounded delicious, but I didn't get to try it.

I really loved the fresh sweet cherry salad served by The Wild Thyme Company. The fresh spring salad mix topped with candied walnuts, sweet dried cherries, fresh cherry tomatoes, a pungent cheese, and a nice cheesy vinaigrette was amazing. I loved the contrasts in textures and flavors introduced by each element of the dish. Not only did they taste good separately, but even better combined! The vinaigrette definitely held this dish together well.

Urban Solace had a shrimp roll, which a spin-off of a lobster roll you'd see on the east coast. This roll consisted of a chunk of soft and fluffy bread topped with small shrimp with a tasty white sauce, a slice of pickled onion, and chives. I thought this was nice and tasty, which made me curious about what other dishes they had to offer.

Searsucker served a light but flavorful chocolate mousse with fresh figs slices and roasted hazelnuts. I really enjoyed the complementing flavors of the chocolate, figs, and roasted hazelnuts. The texture added by the hazelnuts was a nice change of pace for the dessert.

Burlap's beef cheek was delicious! It was so good that they were about to run out when I got there so I got really lucky! The chunk of juicy beef cheek fell apart and melted in your mouth because it was so tender. I really loved the cohesiveness of the dish from the celery and Asian pear puree to the pear, celery, and cilantro slices that complimented the tender beef so well. It's a little adventurous for some, but well worth it! My mouth is watering thinking about this dish right now...

The pork tacos from Carnitas’ Snack Shack were a bit over packed with salsa and guacamole and my serving had quite a bit of charred pork, but I think it was because I was here near the end of the night. After scraping off some of the salsa and guacamole and the burnt pieces, the pork was savory, tender, and juicy and the guacamole and salsa were fresh with a good flavor. I really want to come to the restaurant despite the issues in my serving because the taco shined despite the little hiccups.

The dish by Grant Grill was a more complex but perfectly cooked dish that I've seen from that night. Perfectly cooked, tender, and juicy slice of beef with a splash of au jus that was served on a small pile of deliciously seasoned and perfectly cooked vegetables and a small bed of fresh salad. It was too amazing! The flavors and textures of the dish were basically spot on. I was left craving more... I still want some now!

I wish this dish was not near the end of my night, because I think my fullness impaired me a bit. I really wanted to keep eating to get the flavors out of the dish, but there were many more places to try and not enough space in my stomach! Made by Cucina Urbana, there was a small piece of calamari that tasted as though it was cooked well, but I couldn't extract the flavors out of it very well. The most memorable item was the beans with preserved lemon that had an amazingly intriguing flavor. The marinara sauce was noteworthy as since that had a yummy savory tomato taste with a nice seasoning to it. I really want to retry this dish under different circumstances since it seemed a bit more complex than my full stomach could comprehend.

The Westbean Coffee Roasters were brewing microbatched hand-crafted coffees. I tried the dark roast that they just brewed for the lady who arrived right before me. It was amazing. The way they did this reminded me about the deliciousness of coffee that big chains just can't compare to. This also reminded me of the tasty coffee that I had in Seattle where it was so good that I didn't need to add cream or sugar. That's the way it should be: pure delicious goodness without needing to add cream or sugar to make it more appealing.

This soup by La Villa was my last dish of the night, but I loved every part of it despite feeling like I was going to burst! The nice and light but creamy tomato bisque was complemented so well by the toasted bread topped with a guacamole spread, mild capers, and a slice of a perfectly boiled egg. The mix of flavors and textures of light but creamy, soft but crispy, and rich in flavor but not heavy in the stomach was amazing. It appeared very simple, but it was a dish to remember!

The main event was really exciting. It really felt as though I was watching an Iron Chef competition from TV due to the commentary from Sam Zien (aka “The Cooking Guy”).

There was a panel of 7 judges: Bernard Guilas the executive chef of Marine Room, Ingrid Croce of Croce’s Restaurant and Jazz Bar, Joe Busalacchi of Busalacchi’s on 5th, Ralph Rubio of Rubio’s, Jason Graham the executive chef of Cal-A-Vie, and two guest judges who were guests that won the bidding during the live auction.

The secret ingredient was a fish (I couldn’t hear the type of fish over the chatter around me) and each plate was paired with a drink made by a mixologist which was graded separately during the competition. The food and drinks looked amazing. I was fortunate to try a piece of the steak and it was incredible: there was a delicious crust and on the inside it was so ridiculously tender and juicy that the piece of meat was cut by a spoon! I don't know how many people can say they cut a piece of steak easily using a spoon. From that one taste, I'm sure the other dishes were just as amazing! Below are the photos of the dishes presented to the judges by each team:

I really enjoyed this event for an amazing cause. How can you not love this event: people gathering for a good cause, enjoying good food and drinks, and enjoying the entertainment of the Iron Chef competition? I sure can't help but to love it: auctions to raise money, others willing to donate what they can, and the ability of restaurants to showcase their abilities. This was such a large event that it's hard not to write about all of it, but if I did then it would probably turn into a twenty page report! But since that would be too long, I hope you will enjoy the additional photos that I took of the event:

September 22, 2012 / by / 0 Comments

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