I was on a judging panel for the Orpheum’s annual “Celebrity and Chef Cook-off” a few days ago. I have graduated from contestant to judge in the last few years, and I have to say that judging is no less stressful, but it is less sweaty, and I smell better when it’s all over. As a general rule, I dislike cooking competitions, particularly the ones on TV, but the live ones are exciting, with ingredients flying around, and the smell and sizzle and quiet cursing just adding to the party.
The eight chefs (all men) were given a “mystery basket” of ingredients, assigned to work with a prominent community member, and then the “mystery ingredient” was revealed (it was pale ale). Then all 16 of them had 45 minutes to construct an entree centered around salmon, scallops and the mystery stuff. The celebrity acted as sous chef, prepping and cutting and arranging and generally getting bossed around.
When time was up, we assembled to taste and assess the dishes. Jake Lippincott from the Petroleum Club made a wonderful pastry-covered scallop dish that I wanted more than just a bite of. Kevin Derks of Newport Grill made a beautiful spicy salmon fillet that was served with Moroccan couscous and chive coulis. Every dish was pretty fabulous, but the winner of the whole deal was Jason Febres of Taste and See, who made a four-course meal, starting with an avocado soup with beet foam, then a seared scallop with runny egg and pineapple escabeche, and ending with watermelon gazpacho served in test tubes suspended over dry ice. It was impressive.
Today, my diet begins, starting with an antacid and a big glass of water.