Three Hats, Five Chefs, and Lots of Farms
So much was happening on Saturday, I can’t blame you if you weren’t able to visit The Enchanted City in Troy. But if you didn’t, you missed out on the largest iteration of this annual steampunk festival to date.
I had a role to play in the festivities. I was the lead judge for the culinary competition, Trial by Combat. So I had to come in costume. Dressing up isn’t really my thing, but I went to The Costumer and Scott over there helped me figure it all out.
As it turns out, my head is literally too big for most hats. Even the large ones. The only one that fit was a cowboy hat. So I just went with it.
That was was just one of the hats I was wearing on Saturday. Although the other hats were more figurative, so you may not have noticed that I was wearing both my FLB and Yelp hats. Man, life can get complicated sometimes. But I was invited to participate based on the role I’ve carved out in the local food scene with this blog. However, Yelp continued its ongoing sponsorship of this great annual event.
Those are the three hats. But I really want to tell you about the five chefs and all the farms that were included in this culinary showdown.
Here’s how the contest was structured.
Five brave chefs agreed to put their skills to the test, by facing off against each other in a mystery bag challenge. Marla Ortega from Illium Cafe was the defending champion. Josh Coletto, who occasionally works with Susan Dunckel, was there representing Sweet Sue’s. Brad Stevens brought a bunch of his toys from B-Rads down the street. Adryana Washock, the chef behind the creative menu at Next Level at The Ruck, came out to play. And Gladys Hirsch from la petite Crêpe bravely threw down using little more than a chef’s knife and two crepe stones.
They would each be given an identical bag of goods from the Troy Waterfront Farmers’ Market. And then they had 45 minutes to transform those ingredients into five portions of something enchanting. The dishes would then be evaluated by the crack judging squad of Yelp Elites on presentation, creative use of ingredients, and taste.
For those wondering about some of the nitty gritty details, the chefs were allowed to bring whatever they liked from their kitchens before the competition began. Also they did not have to use all the ingredients provided.
The Troy Waterfront Farmers Market was the other sponsor of this cooking challenge. And they supplied the judges with $250 worth of tokens to shop the market. Filling those bags was a real team effort, but in the end we ended up with something not too far off from a well-stocked Victorian pantry, with the help of many local farms and producers. Here’s what each bag contained and where it came from.
Happenchance Farm – sweet potatoes and an onion
Placid Baker – brioche rolls
Jamtastic – raspberry maple jam
Mariaville Farm – nitrate free bacon
Mariaville Mushroom Men – shiitakes
Slack Hollow Farm – cucumbers, cilantro, and sage
Cornell Farm – eggs
Denison Farm – cabbage
The Berry Patch – plum tomatoes
Cricket Creek Farm – Tobasi cheese
Battenkill Valley Creamery – cream
All of that came to just under $50 a bag. Each was $47.75 to be precise. With the couple of remaining dollars and were tempted to throw one last item into each sack. However, they were chock full of goodness and seriously heavy. Never did I imagine that fifty dollars of food from the market would get us such a massive haul.
Perhaps even more remarkable was the different directions the chefs took with identical bags.
Marla was both creative and restrained. Her badass move was wrapping the cheese in bacon, and cooking that off so the bacon crisped and the cheese melted on the inside. Slices of that bacon-wrapped cheese topped slices of grilled brioche. A fried sage leaf accompanied it, and a sauce of raspberry jam and cream. Grilled plum tomatoes and onion got mixed into the accompanying Israeli couscous.
Josh left restraint at the door, and followed his flights of fancy. His badass move was putting whole eggs in their shells on the live-fire grill. He then shelled the eggs, removed the partially cooked yolks and added those to the plate for a pop of color and richness. But the first thing he did was render the bacon fat to fry sweet potatoes, and then fry brioche slices into crispy, golden triangles. I could probably take an entire post delving into the details of this dish, because there was just so much happening on the plate.
Brad was equally impressive in terms of his use of ingredients and what he was able to do in the 45 minutes. Brioche was made into breadcrumbs. And the egg adhered them onto slices of the cheese. Those were fried off and used to top lettuce cups filled with a Thai-spiced slaw with crispy bacon and sage.
Adryana was most excited by the cilantro. And the judges were excited that she was excited. She presented a pork fried rice, topped with a coconut and raspberry glazed shrimp, and frizzled sage, cucumber, and raspberry reduction. This too played sweet off of savory, and the dish was assertively spiced, which we liked. Fried rice is definitely a good way to use a lot of different ingredients, but it may not have been the best vessel for showing of the chef’s culinary talent.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was when I saw Gladys from La Petite Crepe slicing up the cabbage. I thought for sure she would leave the hard-to-manage vegetables behind. While that may not be a badass move for a chef with a bunch of equipment, it was fearless for someone with just two crepe stones. In the end, each judge was presented with three crepes, representing an appetizer, entree, and dessert. Wow.
In the end, there could only be one winner. Josh Coletto was the only chef to score a perfect 5 from every judge in any category. The one he nailed was the creative use of ingredients. However, it was Marla Ortega who successfully defended her crown with a combined score of 4.8 out of 5 stars.
This was a challenging competition, and all the chefs have something to be proud about.
Next year we’ll see if any other Troy chefs will stand up and see if they can take the mantle from chef Marla. But until then, she’s the most winningest chef in The Enchanted City. Congratulations again to her and to everyone involved in what was a very fun, if very sweaty, festival.