It had happened again: our car had broken down and DH and I were walking back home, sweaty and exhausted, in the asphyxiating heat of the summer. I had asked him to pick me up from Culinary Fight Fest downtown, and he, the ever-helpful husband, had agreed – but now we were stuck 5 miles away from home, with little money left after towing the car to the repair shop, and not willing to spend extra on a cab. We were walking and talking, and suddenly it hit me: By yourself, the journey is long – but you can walk 500 miles when you have friends to help along the way 😉 Every time I attend a Culinary Fight Club competition I notice surprising things, which previously escaped me. At this edition, I noticed joy: the pure, unadulterated joy of the CFC organizers who were engaged in a meaningful project as friends, walking the long path of life together, as one big family. Re-energized by these thoughts, my draining walk home after the competition alongside DH (my best friend) became easy and made perfect sense 🙂
Currently in its second edition, Culinary Fight Fest Chicago took place at Hard Rock Cafe earlier this month. Chefs who had won either the judges’ vote or the public’s vote at a previous Culinary Fight Club event were invited to compete against chefs who had won other different themed competitions in various cities across the country. A veritable Clash of Culinary Titans, Culinary Fight Fest was also an excellent opportunity to raise money for Fight2Feed, a non-profit organization that feeds the hungry across Chicagoland. It was a display of competitive spirit intermingled with awesome camaraderie – “the best time of my life,” as one contestant put it.
There were 14 chefs at the start, out of which only 4 (voted on by the public) were allowed to compete in a second, 30-minute battle for a chance to be crowned the winner.
As the tasting progressed, some of the dishes became clear favorites. Chef Gary Davis from Cincinnati won the hearts and minds of many (myself included!) with this dish of crispy smoked short rib stuffed with jalapeño mac&cheese, with BBQ sauce and a collard green slaw.
Meanwhile, Chef Mark Gaylord‘s shrimp & grits offering was picture perfect and so inspired!
Chef Bridget Mooney (who was runner up at last year’s Culinary Fight Fest) made a cornbread cupcake filled with bacon jam, topped with roasted red pepper cream cheese & bacon steak. Such a small bite to eat – and such a big contender for culinary stardom!
Last but not least, many guests enjoyed Chefs Turon Cummings and Kristopher Schoenberger‘s collaborative effort: smoked Wagyu brisket sliders topped with a chipotle whiskey BBQ sauce and served with an Asian bacon slaw. This was one of my favorite dishes as well:
I have a soft spot for Chef Joelle Brown ever since I saw her at the CFC Steak Challenge (check out my review here), and I was rooting for her to be voted in as one of the finalists since I really enjoyed her take on grits, served with oodles of spicy beef and corn. Sadly, Chef Brown left after the first round. Here’s a pic of her dish:
Two hours into the competition, the public’s votes were counted and the finalists were announced:
In round two, the finalists had to make one dish in 30 minutes using a high quality secret ingredient: Sitka salmon.
Once the cooking was over, it was time for the finalists to meet the judges: Breakfast Queen Ina Pinkney, Chef Massimo Gaffo and BBQ expert Gary Wiviott. Here’s a pic of the judges enjoying a surprise visit from no other than Mrs United States 2017, Lauren Ziegler!
Chef Mooney was the first to be judged on her dish of salmon with sautéed carrots and leeks, with a wine balsamic vinegar reduction and a mango&jalapeño relish:
Chef Mooney got first place in the public’s vote and third place in the judges’ vote!
Meanwhile, Chef Davis presented an elegant salmon dish which benefited from the inclusion of two high-quality artisanal ingredients: pickled butter beans and bourbon barrel aged soy sauce.
Second place for Chef Davis!
The winning dish came from Chef Gaylord, who served salmon with hashed potatoes, leeks and corn cooked in 3 different ways. A winning combination!
At last, here it was: the announcement we had all been waiting for. Under the blistering summer sun, a pure expression of raw, human emotion:
I left Culinary Fight Fest impressed with the amazing joy and camaraderie which had been displayed by the competitors, the judges and the CFC organizers throughout the event. Who would have thought that competition and cooperation can coexist at the highest level of the culinary world? As I approached DH’s car, the sound of this famous song performed by The Proclaimers echoed in my ears. Every journey is difficult, but I would walk 500 miles with my loved ones by my side. How many miles would you walk with your friends? 🙂