December 7, 2010 by
Well what a success Iron Chef Uptown 2.0 was. Some (me) might even call it a Mega Success! A weekly event held at the restaurant Wednesday nights pitting local chefs against each other in a no holds barred kitchen battle featuring a different local farm each week. We drew out such restaurants as Wildcraft, The Culinary Studio, Blackshop, Puddycomb House and Whole-lot-a-Gelata to name a few, and on any given night these chefs packed the room with fanatic fans! Actually attendance grew to such large numbers we had to employ a door man for the last couple nights, turning away as many as 30 people on the night of the finals. As much as it pained me to turn away supporters of the local food scene, I felt immense pride in our community knowing that so many people were so interested in being a part of this initiative.
Version 2.0 of Iron Chef Uptown included a new twist; instead of giving the chefs a box of secret ingredients, each night we featured a local farm and their signature product as our secret ingredient. This came with a few benefits. One was that we invited the farmers to sit on the judging panel, giving them a chance to weigh in on what these chefs were doing with the fruits of their labour. This gave way to many memorable moments. A favourite among our staff was Steve Martin telling Dave from Langdon Hall that as good as their dish was he would have used a Honey Crisp apple instead of the Mutsu for the butter roasted apple quenelles that garnished their pork chop. Steve explained that although the flavour was great the texture of the apple suffered because it didn't hold up to the high heat. We all stood there slack jawed and totally impressed with his ability to tell the difference and explain it to the laymen. My favourite farmer judge moment came behind the scenes. When tabulating the scores for the finale between the Bauer Kitchen and Langdon Hall we noticed that one of the farmer judges (Sam) apparently didn't want to hurt anyone’s feelings, scoring TBK an astonishing 50/50 and the boys from LH 49.9/50. Kind of funny that big bad custom killing Sam Lobrutto couldn't bring himself to be tough on one of these chefs.
Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of bringing local farms to the event was building upon the work Foodlink does in our community. For years the fine folks at Foodlink have been connecting farms with local "foodies" and chefs. This event put us all in the same action packed room… add a few "wobbly pops" and we had chefs, farmers and their adoring fans (the foodies) getting to know one another, developing a respect and understanding for each other and creating bonds that won't easily be broken. Chefs can be a shy bunch who like to get lost in their kitchen work, and farmers, well let's just say being up before the crack of dawn combined with full day of labour isn’t always condusive to knocking on restaurant doors to make connections. Together with Foodlink we made these connections and I think they will last and lead to more locally grown, raised and prepared food on the tables of your favourite restaurants (Uptown21).
It would be unfair for me to write this blog without paying tribute to some of the champions throughout the series. Rush's was triumphant in the premier battle with Herrles corn, Sole was victorious in the battle of the sweet potato from Stevanus Family Farm, Langdon proved their metal in the battle of the Apple from Martin's, Bauer Butchers were the champs in the Oakridge Acres Black Angus beef bonanza and finally the Bauer Kitchen reigned supreme with live trout from Lynden Fish Hatcheries. Another fun "off the record" match up was me and Clair Matlock against grand chef Jonathan Gushue and Andrew Coppolino. We pulled off the victory in the Banbury Emu battle by a slim margin, winning the judges over with our quail egg ice cream with maple candied emu! I must admit though, I stacked the judging panel with Clair's mom (Diane Vernile of CTV News). But I can't say enough about having Jonathan in my kitchen; it was a real honor to cook next to him.
In the end only one team could be called the Uptown Iron Chef Champions. This time it was Brian McCourt and Ryan Murphy of The Bauer Kitchen who used lamb liver, kidneys, heart and soul in their risotto to win over the judges from Charles Quality Meats, edging out Dave Sider of Langdon and Steve Djerfi from Niagara.
I hope to see all our local food fans next season. In the meantime follow us on Twitter to stay in the loop, @nnuptown21. And as a side note we raised $1500 and almost 350 pounds of food for the Food Bank!
BTW in a total George Steinbrenner move I stole the talent from the championship winning team and Ryan "salt'n'pepper" Murphy plays shortstop for Uptown 21 now!
Photo by Andrew Coppolino