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Rally for Randy

October 8, 2013

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. Forget about it. I can’t seem to shake writing about the Capital Region, even though I haven’t lived there for over two months.

What? It’s been two months already?
I tell you, time flies.

This was going to be an Albany centric week anyway. I have the scoresheets in from the Fourth Annual Tour de Donut, which should have an official winner announced tomorrow. Plus there was yesterday’s rundown on the things I’m actually missing from the 518.

I guess that gives me carte blanche to weigh in on this year’s Calling All Cooks competition. The ironic part is that I’m doing this out of friendship. But I’m pretty convinced that in the end, it’s going to make me no friends.

Last year, I took second place in the competition. Going into the finals, I saw Randy Kramer Pierce as my chief competition. She had this killer braciole. Granted, I was convinced my dish was better.

I can’t recall who got third place. But when my dish took second place, I figured that Randy won the big prize. Shockingly, the judges gave the trophy to a dish I considered to be disgusting, and Randy left empty handed.

Well, 2013 is payback time.

Randy is back in the running, and I think her dish has a serious shot. At the very least it deserves to be in the top six. And this is where you come in. Because I’m going to ask that you click “like” on her dish, in the hopes that she gets a chance to redeem herself at the Different Drummers kitchen stadium.

As much as anything else, this stage of the contest is a perfect proof text for why restaurant food in the Capital Region is so bad.

Here you can see the twenty top dishes submitted to Bellini’s Italian Eatery for the contest. Now, I have no doubt that indeed these are the twenty best dishes submitted. But take a look at some of these for just a minute. Not only are these what people who cook and care about food in the Capital Region think qualifies as restaurant worthy dishes, these are the twenty best of all the entries submitted.


That said, it’s not all without hope. Only six of these will get chosen to be cooked for the judges. But this stage is all about the “likes” so contestants with well established networks may go further than dishes that actually have some business being in the competition.

Here are my top picks in no particular order.

1) Barely legal lamb
Braised lamb shanks in a rich brown sauce with plenty of slow cooked carrots. Yeah, that looks pretty stunning. Nice crusty bits around the edges of the meat. A sauce that has obviously been skimmed so that it’s not swimming in fat. I want a bite of that.

2) Lamb breast braciole
Lamb, anchovies, lemons, and olives. Those are my kinds of bold flavors. Sure, I look at the picture and see the polenta isn’t so creamy and that the arugula topping the meat isn’t dressed. But that doesn’t mean that this ballsy dish doesn’t deserve a shot at the big time.

3) French onion mac and cheese
I hate mac and cheese. But there is no denying the visual appeal of this dish. And the people of the capital region consider mac and cheese to be a religion of sorts. There’s clearly a lot of thought that went into this clever dish, and I could see it doing gangbusters on a local menu.

4) Inside out lasagna
It’s like the Italian-American version of a Juicy Lucy. It’s a meatball stuffed with a cheese ravioli. Yes, it’s cheese drenched and swimming in tomato sauce. But these things can be tasty as hell, which is why they are so popular. Sometimes it’s good not to overthink the problem. A meatball stuffed with pasta and cheese, covered with more cheese?

5) Randy’s Return: Scallops with creamy orzo, roasted tomatoes, pancetta & wilted greens
First, I love orzo. I just do, it’s one of my favorite childhood treats. But I think in this dish there is a great balance of sugar, fat, salt, acid and umami. It’s going to hit all of the pleasure centers. Yes, I might still tweak it a little bit, but adding that rich unctuous element of mascarpone to tie the dish together is inspired.

6) Sfingi
Four words: Deep. Fried. Ricotta. Dumplings.

Seriously, you can go and “like” all six of them. But if you only have the time to do one, please give some love to Randy. Let’s send her back into the kitchen, and with any luck she can enter the pantheon of great dishes that won second place in this bizarre culinary competition.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Randy K permalink
    October 8, 2013 10:21 am

    Thanks, Dan! You were a formidable opponent and you’ll be missed in “kitchen stadium” this year. I really appreciate the plug and I know my awesome sous-chef (/husband) and I will do you proud if we make it back into the finals!!

  2. October 8, 2013 12:33 pm

    That lamb shank is basically the same thing that won the year I competed… the thing that WON, yet everyone (including the judges) told me paled in comparison to my dish, and was chosen because there were no lamb options on the menu.

    The thing about this competition is it isn’t about who made the best dish, it’s about which dish will sell, and I think a lot of really good cooks get disheartened by not understanding this.

    Good luck Randy!

  3. Andrew permalink
    October 8, 2013 1:16 pm

    Thanks for the shout-out given to my mac and cheese, Daniel. I think it is different enough to find a spot on a menu and would really sell. But we’ll see!

  4. October 8, 2013 1:28 pm

    This makes me wonder how many people really like lamb and would order it at a restaurant. You don’t really see it on menus that often, and when you do, there’s usually just one lamb option, which makes me think that it’s not that popular.

  5. Craig Couture permalink
    June 13, 2014 2:23 pm

    Interesting to now see that the dish that beat you last year is now being called “disgusting.” You still seemed a bit mad that your disjointed dish did not win the competition. Your arrogance is troubling considering you have little understanding of the restaurant business itself and your culinary acumen wasn’t exactly a showcase at that competition. The use of fennel pollen doesn’t exactly make you an Iron Chef and braising a meat can be done by an unskilled child so long as they can lift the pot into the oven.
    Anytime you would like to have a live culinary competition again, I would be happy to face off in front of impartial judges once again…you have my e-mail.

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