Thursday, April 25, 2013

2013 Chef's Classic Knock OUT 'Bout

Who was the big winner? I’m pretty sure it was me.

As previously mentioned, Robert and I were invited to be judges at the second annual Chef’s Classic Knock OUT ‘Bout. Unfortunately, Robert had to bow out for a family thing, so I was left to represent Lunch Blog by myself. No worries, though. I showed up to the fight with my appetite, notebook and most severe judgy face -- excited to taste what the contenders brought this year.

Round 1: Cold Appetizers

At first, this was one of the weirdest tastes I’d ever experienced, but the creamy coconut and lime layered with a surprisingly spicy finish that I loved. It was like eating some fancy Asian ice cream, and the only thing I went back for seconds of during the competition.

Chef Paredes carried the audience vote with mini tacos, which are usually a shoo-in to catch the eye of the Lunch Bloggers, although the veal didn’t do it for me. Host STRETCH questioned the eligibility of Chef d’Ablaing’s warm salad, but it was too rich and tasty to disqualify.

Chef Walker’s crostini was another of my first round favorites, tasting less like crab than an elegant tuna salad on toast. Chef Courtright’s gazpacho was a hit with my tablemates, and while Chef Winn’s terrine was mild yet flavorful, it ended up being overshadowed by the more vibrant entries.

Round 2: Hot Appetizers

Chef Reams’ dish was my personal winner in this round, too. It was tangy and savory, the pork leading with a rich, slightly sweet taste punctuated by vinegary hits from the pickled vegetables. I could’ve happily taken the puree by itself, so everything else was bonus points.

Chef Paredes again won the audience vote with a surprisingly sweet pork slider that was topped with bacon, served on bacon and topped with more bacon. Robert would argue, but that was a little too much bacon for me.

Kudos to all the chefs on round two -- there was so much tasty stuff here. Chef Winn’s tamale blended pork, pickled onions and mole negro into a satisfying whole. The entries of Chef Walker and Chef Wiggin took typically iffier meats, duck and lamb respectively, and knocked them out of the park. The one entry I didn’t get to try was Chef Foust’s turnover, which I’m told was very light, fresh and tasty.

Round 3: Head to Head – Paredes vs Reams
Mystery Ingredients: Buffalo steak, couscous and Most Wanted Whiskey

I voted for Chef Reams both times in the first two rounds not only because her appetizers tasted incredible, but because they were also inventive, and I really wanted her to do well here.

What we got was delicious, but the flavors seemed to pull in different directions. Her buffalo steak was tender and lean, and the shishito peppers added some crunchy texture along with a touch of heat, but the blossoms were a touch bitter. STRETCH put me on the spot asking me about the couscous, but as I’m not exactly a couscous aficionado, fellow judge Missy Roe spoke up to say it was cooked perfectly and delicious. Overall the whole dish tasted very fresh, just a little disjointed.

With one bite, I knew this was the winner. It hit me deep in my brain’s savory receptors, lighting up the jackpot sign. The steak was cooked perfectly and the vinegar balanced the meat nicely, adding complexity without getting overbearing.

If anything put this dish over the top, it was the creamy mushroom couscous, which came out tasting more like a rich risotto. Good thing nobody tried to clear my plate while the judges’ scores were being tallied. They would’ve gotten jabbed with a fork.

After all four of the judges wrote down their individual scores privately, the sheets were collected and tallied. In the end it was a half point difference that crowned Chef Paredes as the winner. Congratulations to both him and Chef Reams for putting up an amazing final fight, as well as to all of tonight’s chefs for bringing creativity and tasty dishes to each round of battle.

It was a pleasure to chat with fellow blogger judges Missy Roe of The Perfect Bite: Kansas City and Kimberly Winter Stern of Dean & Deluca and the “LIVE! From Jasper’s Kitchen” radio show. And it was also cool to meet Marty Enslein, who won a spot at the judge’s table via auction earlier in the evening. Marty was great company, an honest and fair judge, and took STRETCH’s repeated ribbing in good humor.

Speaking of the auction, if you ever find yourself in a situation where STRETCH is the auctioneer, beware -- he’s sneaky. You’re going to want to watch your hands, gestures and even photo taking during the auction portion -- he will accept anything as a bid.

Finally, thanks again to Kim Culiss, Karen Courtright-Crnkovich and the rest of the event organizers for inviting us back as judges. The turnout grew so much it required a shift in venue and will hopefully prove even bigger and better next year.

For more info about next year’s Chef Classic Knock OUT ‘Bout, check out and like the event’s page on Facebook. Proceeds from the evening go to benefit St. Paul Catholic School.

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