The first rule of the Culinary Fight Club is: You do tell people about the Culinary Fight Club 🙂 If you’re like me and like watching movies and immersing yourself into pop culture, then you must be familiar with the movie Fight Club, which features testosterone-brimming one-on-one fights, voyages into the unconscious and a breathtakingly charming Brad Pitt. What is the subject of Fight Club? That’s actually a very good question, and many answers have been suggested ever since the movie was released, back in 1999. At the most basic level, the movie and the novel it’s based on are about the competitive spirit embedded in human nature, and about competition as the key to break free from the conformism imprinted on us by modern society. Ultimately, fighting is the key to Life, and a fight is a fight is a fight.
In a move that has pleased foodies and movie buffs alike, the concept of a fight club has been adapted to suit the culinary world under the name of the Culinary Fight Club, a national organization which hosts live cooking competitions. Contestants – be they home cooks or executive chefs – come together to compete, amass glory and new followers, and give back to the community. Indeed, what makes the Culinary Fight Club so special is this emphasis on competition with a higher purpose: ending hunger and helping local friends in need. To achieve this goal the Culinary Fight Club gives 20% of the proceeds from each competition to Fight2Feed, a nonprofit organization which provides service and support to hungry men, women and children.
I know about the Culinary Fight Club events and I love their emphasis on helping the community – and this is why the invitation to attend their latest cooking competition in Chicago was an offer I simply could not refuse 🙂
The competition theme changes from month to month, and last month it was blended burger. As per the James Beard Foundation Blended Burger Competition sponsored by The Mushroom Channel, a blended burger must contain at least 25% mushrooms for a healthier meal. After the competition, chefs will submit their burger recipe in the James Beard Blended Burger Category and compete for the grand prize: a trip to the James Beard House, where they will showcase their creations at an exclusive event next year.
I was familiar with the ongoing popularity of the Blenditarian movement from the Good Food Festival I had attended back in March, and as such I was very excited to see innovation at work in the world of blended burgers. For a start, the contestants were briefed on the time-related rules: they had 45 seconds to get ingredients from the pantry and 60 minutes to create the dish that represented their take on the blended burger. After 60 minutes, the judges and the public were to taste the burgers and to vote on the winning dish.
One of these chefs was about to be crowned Chicago’s Culinary Fight Club Blended Burger Champion!
And off it went! A “war of all against all” erupted as chefs used their hands – and elbows! – to secure their favorite ingredients from the pantry:
With only one hour at their disposal, Chef Won Kim of Kimski and his team did everything they could to use their time well. They were actually the first to finish!
Here’s Chef Kim grilling his blended burgers with sautéed shiitake mushrooms:
Meanwhile, Creative Conecepts Sous Chef Aninn Stewart worked hard in the summer heat to make his signature burgers with smoked mushrooms, pickled mixed bell peppers and bacon jam:
Good coordination and planning were key to Chef Darren McGraw of Ampersand Wine Bar, whose team wasted no time to get down to business:
Similarly methodical were the Knife & Tine chefs, who grilled a variety of veggies to create a wholesome “picnic in a bun” (as one judged called it):
After one hour, it was tasting time! Chef Won Kim was the first to face the judges:
Chef Kim’s blended burger was an inspiring mushroom double-decker: the patty featured sautéed shiitake mushrooms, red onions and yellow bell peppers, while on top of it there was a medley of quickly grilled mushrooms tossed in sesame oil (Chef Kim’s secret ingredient). With this burger Chef Kim got third spot in the judges’ ranking and came first in the public’s ranking!
Knife & Tine Executive Chef Steven Singer got second spot with my favorite blended burger of the night. Brimming with portobello mushrooms, the burger also included pimento cheese, horseradish mustard, balsamic vinegar, smoked corn in the husk, poblano, bell peppers and tomatoes, and a smoked jalapeno jam. A lot of grilling went on to create a burger that was veggie-loaded, juicy and flavorful like no other!
The winner of Chicago’s Culinary Fight Club Blended Burger Challenge was Chef Darren McGraw, who kept things pretty straightforward presentation-wise to win the judges’ hearts. The many components of Chef McGraw’s burger – such as horseradish mayo, avocado, pickles, Worcestershire sauce, fish sauce and anchovies – joined forces with the mushrooms and benefited from Chef McGraw’s most potent secret weapon: smoked paprika.
Congratulations, Chef McGraw!
I had an amazing time at the Culinary Fight Club Blended Burger Challenge observing some of Chicago’s most competitive chefs, tasting delicious burgers and learning more about Fight2Feed. With summer now in full swing, I look forward to similar events in the future and hope the Culinary Fight Club will grow even stronger in audience and scope as time goes by. The first rule of the Culinary Fight Club is: You do tell people about the Culinary Fight Club! I’m breaking one of the original Fight Club rules – and I’m loving it 🙂