Friday, March 30, 2012

Chef’s Classic Knock OUT ‘Bout

“8 Chefs. 3 Rounds. 1 Champion.”

It was a battle royale at St. James Academy last Saturday for the Chef’s Classic Knock OUT ‘Bout.

At this boxing-themed culinary throwdown, eight local chefs competed for a trophy roughly the size of a high school freshman. In each of rounds one and two, the chefs prepared an appetizer and all attendees got a ticket to vote for their favorite. The top two chefs then advanced to round three -- a secret ingredient, Iron Chef-style, head-to-head cookoff.

The winner of round three and the Knock OUT ‘Bout’s ultimate champion was chosen by a panel of celebrity judges featuring Celina Tio of Julian, Colby Garrelts of bluestem -- and us, Robert Bishop and Matt Shaw of Lunch Blog KC. Because when you throw a fancypants foodie event, you want to get the guys that thought this was a good idea. (Actually, you ask John Newkirk of KC Napkins, but he couldn’t make it, and he recommended us.)

Host Chef Mark Alan Mollentine rang the opening bell, and the fight was on.

Round One
Hands down, this was our number one favorite from the first round. The tuna was perfectly cooked, and if Maybon would like to send us a few jars of the watermelon pico de gallo, we’d eat it with a spoon. Come to think of it, we did eat it with a spoon.

A close second for us was the rock shrimp ceviche (#7), which brought together a great blend of flavors. We also thought it was pretty cool that the salmon on the bagel popper (#3) was smoked using pieces of old wine barrels.

And while there was a lot of creativity on display, it didn’t always pay off. In the case of both the Cajun chicken cheesecake (#5) and the rabbit confit (#6, billed as “a day in the life of a rabbit”), the execution didn’t quite live up to the concept.

During this round, sponsor Taco John’s was hooking people up with free nachos over in the non-competition VIP area. We tried to get some momentum going for them by chanting, “Let Taco John’s! In the ring! Let Taco John’s! In the ring!,” but nobody joined us to rally for them.

Round Two
Without question, these tacos were the best thing we had at the Knock OUT ‘Bout. A crispy shell with juicy pork, creamy cheese and a tiny hit of vinegar -- there was nothing here not to like. We had to stop ourselves from going back to Winn’s station over and over again.

The contenders really brought their A-game for round two. The phyllo triangles (#2) were nice and tart, and the hanger steak (#1) was tender and delicious with a hint of sweetness. We also loved the miso (#3) -- even though we were warned beforehand that it was spicy, it had more of a kick than we expected.

And if only we lived in a world where you could stop at your local Gas & Sip and get a bag of crispy braised bacon (#6), that’d be our new go-to snack. If only.

Yet once again this round, d’Ablaing’s appetizer was our runner-up, although he experienced some tactical difficulties cooking enough scallops (#7) to keep up with the people waiting at his station to try them. We heard d’Ablaing joke that next year he’s just going to make roast beef.

Round Three

Ultimately, the top two chefs to advance to round three were Winn and d’Ablaing. The secret ingredients were unveiled -- pork tenderloin, quinoa and Most Wanted Kansas Whiskey. At the end of the 45-minute cookoff, here’s what the chefs came up with:

Our fellow judges Tio and Garrelts each took a few bites of the two dishes and quickly began to discuss their relative merits. Meanwhile, on the Lunch Blog side of the table we were tasting away. Look, we don’t want to tell the professionals how to do their jobs, but come on. Free bourbon pork. Let’s do this.

It was a tough decision. Both dishes were tasty, and while we were fans of the gorgonzola in one, we were also digging the caramel-bourbon sauce in the other.

Still, there had to be a winner, and d’Ablaing’s presentation sealed the deal. He claimed the trophy. And since the Knock OUT ‘Bout was a benefit for St. Paul Catholic School, he may have even curried a little extra favor with Jesus, too.

Thanks again to the event organizers for inviting us to be judges. They’re planning on making the Knock OUT ‘Bout an annual thing, so for more info on next year’s event, go and like it on Facebook.

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