Just relaxing on an islet in the Caribbean

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Laguna Beach Chef/Owner - Backed Into Corner To Defend Championship Title!

The second OC Sunday Night Chef Fights found Laguna Beach Chef Lindsay of Nirvana Grille sans the championship title of “Best Chef in the OC”. Despite a very close scoring decision, Chef Lindsay yielded her championship status to new champion Chef/Owner Nicola Bellazzi of Enne Cucina Italiana in San Clemente.

In front of an anxious sold out crowd of 65 OC foodies, both chefs and culinary teams worked quickly to accomplish the goal of assembling, plating and serving 3-4 dishes incorporating the main ingredients: sweet potato, ham, cauliflower with the secret ingredient coconut. Note: the hidden item is revealed to the chefs 48 hours prior to competition!

Chef Nico, first to take the stage, did a great job of utilizing all ingredients in his four dishes. First course presented was a cauliflower & sweet potato zuppa with crispy prosciutto bits & shaved coconut. Although the soup had great flavor and was seasoned well, I found the consistency of the soup thin and runny.

A coincidence? Chef Lindsay’s first course was also a cream of cauliflower soup blended with pancetta and cauliflowerettes. A perfect, creamy consistency and lovely presentation using pretty swirls of crème fraiche does not account for flavor – my dining companions and I agreed the soup lacked in taste. Second course presented by Chef Nick was penne pasta with prosciutto, arugula, coconut cream and truffle oil. The vibrant arugula leafs made a colorful presentation with a hint of truffle oil offsetting the rich coco cream and salty Italian ham. And leave it to a classically trained Italian chef to cook perfect al dente pasta. Kudos Chef Nico. Although pasta is not on my gluten-free diet, I savored every morsel and wanted more!

Chef Nico served an entre of white meat chicken tender wrapped in prosciutto which had been cooked in coconut milk then topped with cauliflower and served over sweet mashed potato, scented with gorgonzola cheese and coconut bits. One taste and I was baffled – this dish was pedestrian and left me unimpressed. I had higher expectations from a well-trained chef/owner. Chef Nico had done a great job with his prior dishes blending all the flavors together but this dish was trite and lacked the flavor I had expected.

Slow braised chicken was Chef Lindsay’s entree for the evening. Using various exotic Indian spices including curry with coconut, dark meat was cooked for several hours and served with a beurre blanc sauce then plated over a bed of coconut-cilantro rice. Albeit my rice had a mushy consistency, accolades to Chef Lindsay for her creativity, appearance and nice flavor combos. Chef Lindsay did a fine job with regards to the combination of ingredients!

After plenty of savory small plates I was ready for dessert. Both desserts lacked in creativity. With so many desserts to create incorporating sweet potato, coconut, cauliflower and ham, why settle for a traditional crème brulee or standard custard? Chef Lindsay’s sweet potato custard with caramel sauce had well balanced flavors and was not too sweet but was runny in consistency. In fact so runny, I was able to pour some custard out onto my dinner plate – not a good example of properly cooked custard. Consistency was not an issue for Chef Nico’s sweet potato and coconut brulee but the confection lacked the traditional crispy-thin caramelized topping.

When the time clock stopped and the final scores tallied, the breakdown was: Creativity – Chef Nick: 284, Smith-Rosales: 258; Appearance –Chef Lindsay: 279, Chef Nick 263; and Taste: Chef Nick: 285, Chef Lindsay, 255. After an intense evening, the winner by a ‘razor thin split decision’ was Chef Nick.

Please come out to support our local chefs when Chef Nick returns to defend his title in the next Orange County Sunday Night Chef Fight competing against Challenger Chef James Harris, Executive Chef of the Royal Hawaiian in Laguna Beach on Sunday, August 21st at the Standards of Excellence showroom in Huntington Beach.


Patty Pinto

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