* Matt Bolus — Chef, The 404 Kitchen. Last month, The 404 Kitchen was named a 2014 semifinalist for Best New Restaurant in America by the James Beard Foundation.
* Chris Carter & James Peisker — Co-owners, Porter Road Butcher. Listed as one of the five best artisanal butcher shops in America by Bon Appetit in 2012.
* Kristen Gregory — Executive chef, Firefly Grille. Winner, 2013-14 season premiere of Chopped.
* Hal Holden-Bache — Executive chef, Lockeland Table. Lockeland Table was named a 2013 semifinalist for Best New Restaurant in America by the James Beard Foundation.
That's a helluva group of chefs.
The rules are simple: Each chef (and his or her sous chef — the Porter Road guys won't get one since they're competing as a duo) will have one hour to prepare plates for a panel of judges based on one secret ingredient.
The event is 6 to 9:30 p.m. in the Commodore Ballroom at Vanderbilt University, and tickets are on sale now. The event has sold out in the past, so if you want to see the chefs compete, eat some great food and drinks and hang out with fellow food lovers, get them soon.
Then there was the time that Porter Road Butcher owner James Peisker bolted a bread tray from Provence to his door.
I'll back up.
As I pulled up, I noticed a garbage bag on the window. New drive-thru? Nope. Somebody tried to break in.
Sometime after midnight, a would-be thief threw a rock through the window of the door and let themselves in to rob the cash register. "Dude must have had one hell of an arm," said co-owner Chris Carter. The softball-sized rock went through the window, and made it all the way across the store, coming to a rest in front of a magazine rack.
Of course, when the window was broken, it tripped the alarm. Peisker said Metro cops responded within a minute and the burglar fled without getting anything.
I was kind of amazed at watching the amateur try to break into the cash register. Wearing gloves and using a towel, so as to avoid fingerprints, he fumbled with it, but he didn't try to drop it on the floor to break it open.
"You ALWAYS spike the register," Peisker said. Bites asked him how he knew that. He's been watching reruns of The Wire, perhaps? It wouldn't have mattered, anyway. There wasn't anything in it.
With Home Depot and the like closed at that time of the morning, Peisker improvised a cover for the broken window in the form of a delivery pallet from their bread guys.
Across the market on the floor, the rock remained in place, taped off and marked "Official Butcher Crime Scene."
The crime is that the guy walked out of there without the French dip. I'd risk jail for one of those things.
Well, he was able to raise enough money to travel out to represent Music City last weekend against a roster of others chefs from around the country in this multi-round elimination event. Chefs traveled from as far away as Boston to compete in cooking skills events as well as several rounds of dish preparation, some of which demanded the use of last minute secret ingredients.
The judging panel was quite esteemed with Colman Andrews, the founder of Saveur, and Barbara Fairchild, the former editor-in-chief of Bon Appétit, scoring the chefs on skills like onion dicing, chicken butchery and tournée cutting a pile of potatoes. Chef Frohne, who was born with fingers missing from his right hand, demonstrated remarkable knife skills under pressure and advanced through the skills competitions to the cooking portion of the event.
As a small crowd of supporters looked on (this was Friday morning in Vegas, after all ... not everybody was awake yet), Frohne received his first assignment form the judges. The cheftestants were split into flights of six to prepare a "Twisted Eggs Benedict." Frohne took the "twisted" part to heart, creating a pasture egg benedict with charred pepper romesco, fried hollandaise, grass-fed fed beef, oyster mushroom and watercress. The result of his mad scientist kitchen alchemy wowed Andrews and Fairchild and pushed him on to the next food challenge ingredient, salmon.
While the rest of the competitors made some sort of grilled salmon during this 30-minute challenge, Frohne threw down the gauntlet with a salmon boudin blanc with eggplant and corn ravigote, crispy pancetta and saffron essence. Making sausage is always challenging; attempting it outdoors on essentially a camp stove in half an hour is crazy.
OK, so somebody got a clam to eat potato chips. That's crazy and kind of adorable. It's also sorta weird. But what I'm wondering is if that clam had eaten Humpty Dumpty's Sour Cream & Clam Potato Chips, would that clam be a cannibal? And mind you we're not even going to consider where/how this clam could get a time machine to take him back to the days before said chips were discontinued because my grandparents died and there was nobody left that was crazy enough to eat clam-flavored potato chips.
If it is possible to have a food hangover, that is definitely what I’m experiencing this morning. Mr. Eats and I celebrated our anniversary last night at Iron Fork. It may seem odd, but it’s such a fun event that it makes perfect sense for us. We do love food. Lots of food. Plus, the proceeds from the event benefit Second Harvest Food Bank, a wonderful and worthy organization. This year, the event was held at Marathon Music Works, which I think is now my favorite of all the venues. It was much easier to see the chefs at work, and there was a good amount of room to get to the vendors’ tables.
And two very large and well-staffed bars, which is, of course, very important.
The 2012 edition of Iron Fork — Nashville's best culinary showcase/showdown — is just days away, and if you don't have a ticket already, here's the chance for you (and a friend) to go for free, courtesy of Bites.
Winning this contest is as easy as leaving a comment, but you have to do it before 4:30 p.m. today. We'll choose the funniest caption then, and notify the winner via email. Go!
Occasionally another dude crashes the party, and his attendance is always welcome since he tells us stories about the stars that cannot be repeated in this space. But the core group of four of us are serious about our task of finding the best fish and chips in town. However, we're not serious about much else, so the lunch conversation is always lively.
So here are the results of rounds 1 to 3:
Dan McGuinness Pub
1538 Demonbreun St.
The tartar sauce was deemed to be a little bit sweet and lacking in the pickle relish department. There was a random sprinkling of parsley all over the dish, so maybe it missed the tartar sauce bowl during prep. Overall, the Luncheros considered Dan McGuinness a strong offering, especially for the price on Thursdays. Taking the price into account, we gave it an average score of 4.125 fillets out of a possible 5.
Cut thin and properly cooked, they're great plain, as served to a lunch group recently at Fleet Street, a reminder of how good potato chips can be. Maybe a bit of seasoning — the truffled potato chips at Cha Chah are just the thing with a cocktail. And they're also great jazzed up, as served to a dinner crowd at Yolos. Dolloped with with sour cream and sprinkled with bacon, green onions and blue cheese, these chips rose to the level of appetizer rather than snack.
Homemade potato chips are so innately good that it's hard to pinpoint the best in town. But let's try — where have you had some incredible homemade chips?
Locally, Chef Tyler Brown of the Capitol Grille was asked to challenge Chef David Bull of Second Bar + Kitchen in Austin, Texas. Brown's Country Fried Steak and Uncle Ellis Cornmeal Gravy (pictured right) are competing against Bull's Chicken Fried Steak and Red Eye Gravy. But really, where's the competition in that? Tyler's steak and his sous chef Cole Ellis' family recipe for white gravy — versus some Texan trying to pour old coffee on a rib-eye? Pshaw.
Plus, Chef Bull's version takes more than twice as long to prepare. You could have made Tyler's dish, eaten it, done the dishes and be a quarter of the way through watching the Texas Longhorns lose another college football game by the time that Texas shoe leather was ready to gnaw.
So if you want to see the winning recipe (IMHO), visit the Southern Living website here for the steak and here for Cole's gravy recipe. If you must attempt to compare Chef Bull's his valiant effort is here.
Recently, one of our ringleaders expressed a craving for some good fish and chips. That started quite a debate as to whether such a thing actually exists in our fair burg and where we should go in our attempt to find some. Each of us had our own opinion, so we agreed to add a regular fish and chip trial to our lunch rotation. The initial recommendations are McNamara's, Batter'd and Fried, Dan McGuinness, Fleet Street and Whiskey Kitchen.
Of course, not only can we not agree on who has the best fish and chips in town, we also can't even agree on the criteria to judge them by. Do they have to be authentically British? Should hot fish be considered? With or without malt vinegar?
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If y'all are short of judges, I hereby selflessly volunteer my services.