Thursday, October 08, 2009

Pro ChefAMe #1, Philadelphia

We weren't sure what to expect with the Open ChefAMe event in August cooked by amateur chefs, and we were so pleasantly surprised, that we were really looking forward to the Pro ChefAme event in September, billed as "a nine course no holds barred competition of culinary mastery." It was to feature 3 professional chefs cooking with 3 set ingredients Iron Chef style.

Interestingly, I think we all agreed that we actually liked the amateur event better. Not that I'm complaining about this one. Still the best deal in town - $40 for 9 courses with beer pairings! And still a lot of fun, which I think has a lot to do with founder Jesse and his co-organizers. Such a great idea, I wish I had thought of it myself.

But anyway, back to the food. The event was held at Tavern 17 in the Warwick Hotel, and the 3 contestants were all chefs there: Chef Cathy Chambers, Executive Chef Ben Young, and Sous Chef Christopher Spellman. The 3 ingredients were scallops, chicken, and beef tenderloin. And there were 3 judges sharing their reviews and scores to the crowd.

First round: Chef Cathy made cajun crusted sea scallops with warm peach salsa and rainbow micro greens salad. The portion was huge - 2 fat scallops. It was good but not that exciting, plus more than one of us had a bit of grit. Mine was so big I chipped a tooth on it!

Executive Chef Ben made a scallop ceviche with tri-pepper and daikon salad with tobiko and wasabi vinaigrette and pink sea salt (pictured top). After the chipped tooth, I was a little wary crunching on pink salt - I could have done without it. But everything else on the plate was delicious! Wonderful flavors, melt-in-your-mouth scallop.

Sous chef Christopher rounded out the dishes with sauteed scallops filled with pesto atop creamy polenta and rosemary tomato consomme. Reading the menu, I thought this would be awesome - I imagined juicy bursting sacs. But sadly, not enough pesto, scallops a little overcooked, and tomato soup base was just weird. (and sorry, forgot to take a picture). I also didn't keep track of the judges scores, but

Our scores were: Cathy 3, Ben 4.5, and Christopher 2.

Next round, chicken. Chef Cathy delivered grilled petite chicken breast with sweet potato gnocchi with roasted apples and a tarragon cream sauce. Again, this was solid - chicken was perfectly cooked and moist, gnocchi had great flavor but maybe just a touch rubbery, and the cream sauce was yummy. Very satisfying, ate the whole plate up, but again, we just weren't wowed by anything surprising. Still it definitely ended up being the best of the chicken dishes.

Chef Ben served up Caribbean Jerk Roulade with rainbow chard and country bacon polenta. This was disappointing - chicken was ok, but didn't have a whole lot of flavor. The polenta saved the dish, but then again, how can you screw up polenta with bacon? Roasted corn added a nice textural counterpoint to the creaminess.

Third chicken dish was Chef Christopher's Macadamia Mango Chicken with rice pilaf. The judges of the event called this one "banquet food" - ouch, that hurts - but I have to agree. Chicken was dry, rice was bland.

Our scores: Cathy 3, Ben 3, Christopher 2

Last round, beef tenderloin. This time, Cathy's delivered -- herb-rubbed tenderloin medallions with grilled corn and caramelized onion potato galette with roasted yellow and red tomato compote. Even though totally stuffed, I had to eat this perfectly medium-rare piece of meat, and the potato cake was yummy.

And again, Chef Ben disappointed. His pan seared spicy tenderloin with roasted tomato risotto cake, pomegranate glace and onion frissee sounded interesting, but was just "eh" (despite the fancy garnish).

And Chef Christopher's last dish didn't help his score - beef tenderloin with candied mushrooms and brandy cream sauce. 1000yregg liked the sauce, but I found its sweetness cloying. And neither Ben nor Chris cooked the meat as well as Cathy.

Beef score: Cathy 4.25, Ben 2, Christopher 2

So our total tally was Cathy 10.25, Ben 9.5, Christopher 6. Cathy also won based on the judges scores. We didn't always agree with their reviews -- none of them liked our favorite dish, Ben's scallop dish. They did have a point that it wasn't really ceviche, but if he had named it something else, maybe they wouldn't have quibbled. One judge in particular got on 1000yregg's nerves, so badly he had a tweet about it while we were there...

We were absolutely stuffed by the end of this. To be honest, I was actually glad that I didn't like some of the later dishes - and could happily not eat them. Next ChefAMe event is in November - can't wait!


Little Paper Hen said...

Wow! I wish they had this in Honolulu. It would do well! I found it hard to believe you could eat all that food but I guess you skimp on the dishes you don't like. Next time you're here, we'll have to indulge in Chef Mavro. There aren't too many restaurants here that offer "courses" like this.

fougoo said...

Oh of course! No way I ate all this - I'd say I ate the first 2 scallop dishes, the first chicken dish, the polenta, and the first beef dish. Which was WAY more than enough!