Yet as I sat there, tasting these incredible dishes and loving life, I couldn't shake this unexpected, overriding thought from my head:
I feel like a dick.
Seriously, who am I to cast judgment upon the food of chefs who have been pouring their hearts, souls and talents into their food for just about as long as I've been alive (sorry...)? Learning the ropes of the restaurant business from the ground up, from dish-washing to culinary school to head chef honors, these people come from backgrounds and experiences the likes of which I can only venture a mediocre guess - all to be evaluated by a kid with a food blog. Sure, my palate has expanded tremendously over the past year, but it doesn't hold a candle to the knowledge and skills that these chefs possess.
In talking afterward with one of the chefs, he explained that it is all part of the handshake they make. The deal they strike. The bargain. It's part of the business, and each of these chefs entered into the Throw Down willingly with the understanding that this was the scenario. Additionally, he pointed out that our choices could have easily changed with something as simple as the weather - five degrees colder, rain, or a heat wave would have made me enjoy a completely different dish. "Food is as subjective as art," he added.
That only made me feel slightly better.
So chefs, take away from this what you will. But on this particular day, at this particular venue, at this particular time, with my particular tastes, the following is what I know to be true from my culinary point of view:
As for dessert, we were all blown away. The smoked fig cake contained nuggets of walnuts and served as the base for an incredibly unique morel and chanterelle mushroom ice cream made with liquid nitrogen. I think we got this a bit too late, as it turned into more of a foam by the time touched it. Regardless, the flavor was spectacular: a salty, earthy flavor brought out the sweetness in the figs, which married perfectly with the olive oil and sea salt drizzled over top in true Italian fashion.
When all was said and done, we were left stunned by both the quality and the quantity of food before us. After a deep breath, I took a quick look around our table, only to observe this:
Best Plating: Chef Alli Sosna
Best Single Bite: Chef Jeremy Enfinger's Oyster
Most Innovative: Chef Scott Pampouch's Morel and Chanterelle Mushroom Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream
Best Pig Part: Crispy Skin from 4505's porchetta
Ultimately, the judges had to choose a single dish. So, after much deliberation, arguing, push-back, and a much needed walk around the venue to ease ourselves out of our respective food comas, we chose...
Call us chicken. Say we ducked out. Cry foul!
We just couldn't do it.
See, there were no rules in place, so we had to establish our criteria on the fly. Was the winner supposed to have the best complete dish? The best bite? Sweet or savory? Lunch, dinner, snack, appetizer? The possibilities were endless. In the end, we agreed on our two dishes: the first was our favorite in that we would seek it out specifically to have it again. It was so unique and irresistible, and we all found ourselves coming back time and time again for another bite.
Congratulations to winner number one: Chef Chris Grant and his Crawfish Crème Brûlée!
However, we could not justify that as a complete meal. It was so rich that the ramekin sized cup was the perfect amount. So, our favorite "entree" went to:
Chef Alex Tamburro's Wagyu Beef Agnolotti!
Some people think that a tie is 50/50: an even split. But that just isn't the case. A tie is two wholes. It is two dishes that are each, in their entirety, the best of the best.
Without sounding cheesy, the real winners were those who experienced the food. These chefs told their stories through food: their cultures, their backgrounds, and their passions all came through in the dishes they prepared. And we all had the honor to take part in that journey.
This event was about so much more than competition. It was about teamwork...
When I look around at the chefs who comprised the inaugural Throw Down on the Farm, I see more than just cooks. I see more than just aprons and knives in the kitchen behind the scenes. I see more than just phenomenally crafted dishes.
You know what I see?
I see a group of men and women who are willing to stand up and fight for what they believe. A group that is willing to showcase ingredients as they were meant to be. A group that is unwilling to take shortcuts for the sake of making a buck. A group that loves what they do so much so that they are willing to invest their every being into it, and wishes to share their gifts with the world for the benefit of the greater good.
In a food competition such as this, someone will take home the crown. But when talented people join forces for the betterment of society, everyone wins.