Patty Pinto’s Hot Dish
Sunday Night Chef Fights are a series of live, head-to-head cooking competitions held across the Inland Empire, San Diego, and Orange County.
Sunday Night Chef Fights was a bout to remember for my local hometown gal Chef Lindsay Smith-Rosales of Nirvana Grille. Congratulations to Chef Lindsay for taking home the coveted championship last night at Sunday Night Chef’s Fight in Huntington Beach, hosted at the Standard of Excellence Showroom in the “culinary arena.”
For the uninitiated, Sunday Night Chef Fights pit local county chefs against each other in a drag-out, no ifs ands or buts culinary brawl with the winner lugging home a trophy and the bragging rights as “Best Chef in the OC.” Through word-of-mouth and research, local chefs are chosen for competition and—unlike the typical notable T.V. food competitions with hand-selected celeb judges—Sunday Night Chef Fights embrace the audience as the evening’s arbiters. For a very reasonable fee ($75 VIP, $50 general seating) the assemblage of 60 bon vivants sample three different chef-inspired, “specific ingredient” dishes with an additional “secret ingredient” that is revealed to the chefs that morning. (BTW foodies, that is six courses total.) Dishes are judged by appearance, taste and creativity with a scorecard placed in front of each referee. The champ’s fate is in the audience’s hands or shall I say, at the mercy of their palates.
In addition to sampling the chef’s combative food fest, gourmands enjoy an entertaining evening with master of ceremonies Chris Kern—creator, host, and executive producer, founder of “Friends of the Forgotten Grape,” and overall wine phenom—who matches three types of wines for the oenophile’s tasting pleasure. Chris has been in the wine business since 2006, when he began leading private wine tours to France and parts of California in search of the “forgotten grapes.” Being a wine lover myself and having the pleasure of a private wine cellar at home, I was very impressed with Chris’ passion and obvious love for wine! I am sure Dionysus gazes down upon Chris with sheer content for his loyal wine enthusiast.
In This Corner…
Chef Lindsay held her own, sparred well and narrowly defeated contender “Rock’n Roll” Chef/Owner Phil Knoke of SteerCrazy International BBQ & Catering in San Juan Capistrano. Make no mistake, Chef Lindsay delivered a rock-solid right hook to Chef Phil’s jawbone making him weak in the knees with her entrée of perfectly roasted, herb-crusted, oversized lamb lollipops and sun-dried tomato couscous. The lamb chops were cooked to a succulent medium-rare and nicely seasoned with fresh herbs. And, although Chef Phil’s Hawaiian-style, Kalua, ten-hour-smoked pulled pork with his secret Hillbilly Pirate Hawaiian BBQ sauce was tasty, in my most humble of opinions it did not stand a chance against Chef Lindsay’s lollipops … her chops had the opponent shivering under his notorious cowboy hat!
For starters, Chef Lindsay served a fresh radish and cucumber salad with golden raisins, dates, orange-blossom honey, orange zest and secret spices. I am sure the salad must have started off fresh and crispy, but by the time it was set before me and shoveled into my fly trap, and due in no small part to an over-dressing of Raita (Indian-style yogurt dressing), my once-crisp salad was lightly soggy with a mushy texture.
For his appetizer, Chef Phil presented a Hawaiian-style cucumber and radish salad. It was simple in flavor, though I found it lacking in sweetness with a little too much acidity. The salad left a strong vinegar taste on my tongue. Chef Phil rose to the occasion with his salad presentation, however, by adding a boiled, ginger-brined quail egg which he strategically placed in the center of the bowl surrounded by two chopsticks ... very creative. My final decision was that his dish fared better than his competitor’s radish salad.
Chef Phil Knoke served up a Hawaiian-style cucumber and radish salad. | Photo by Pinto
Kudos to Chef Phil for his creativity in dessert planning. Instead of the usual confection, he served the judges a Hot Toddy in a miniature brandy snifter with a cinnamon stick garnish. Job well-done with a tasty, traditional Hot Toddy incorporating honey—the secret ingredient—very creative and warming to my cold bones!
Lastly, the sweet tooths in the crowd must have been satiated with the arrival of Chef Lindsay’s standard Chocolate soufflé. Although, the soufflé was traditional in appearance—fluffy and puffed up—it lacked depth of rich chocolate flavor and was a tad bit on the dry side, with a spoonful of honey-infused Crème Anglaise coming to the rescue.
When the time clock stopped and the final scores were tallied, the breakdown was: Creativity - Knoke: 172, Smith-Rosales: 181; Appearance - Knoke: 159, Smith-Rosales: 185; and Taste: - Knoke: 186, Smith-Rosales: 184. After a nail-biting close of day, the winner by a “razor thin split decision” was Chef Lindsay Smith-Rosales.
In any event, the evening was most enjoyable, offering an opportunity to experience local OC chefs at their finest and taste some otherwise “unknown’” varietal wines. What a great concept!
Please come out to support our local chefs when Chef Lindsay must defend her title against world-trained Chef Nico from “Enne Cucina Italiana” (San Clemente/Talega) on Sunday, May 15th at Standards of Excellence in Huntington Beach. Hurry, buy your tickets as it will be a sell-out and I will be there for sure!
For more information on Sunday Night Chef Fights visit SundayNightChefFights.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.