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 covetous 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 bragging rights as the “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 embraces the audience as the evening’s arbiters. For a very reasonable fee - $75 VIP, $50 general seating - the assemblage of sixty bon vivants sample 3 different chef inspired “specific ingredient” dishes with an additional “secret ingredient” that is revealed to the chefs that morning (BTW foodies, that is 6 courses total). Dishes are judged by appearance, taste and creativity with a score card 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 & Executive Producer (founder of Friends of the Forgotten Grape and wine phemon) 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 shear content for his loyal wine enthusiast.
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 over-sized lamb lollipops and sun dried tomato couscous. The lamb chops were cooked to a succulent medium-rare, served with a veal demi glace and nicely seasoned with fresh herbs.
Albeit tasty and in my most humble of opinions, Chef Phil’s Hawaiian style Kalua 10 hour smoked pulled pork with his secret Hillbilly Pirate Hawaiian BBQ sauce did not stand a chance against Chef Lindsay’s lollipops…her chops had the opponent shivering under his notorious cowboy hat!
As a starter, 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 due 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. Simple in flavor, lacking sweetness with a little too much acidity the salad left a strong vinegar flavor on my tongue. Chef Phil rose to the occasion with his salad presentation 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. Kudos to Chef Phil for his creativity in dessert planning. Instead of the usual confection Chef Phil served the judges a Hot Toddy in a mini 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 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!