Wassup everyone, there’s a lot of ground that will be covered so let’s get started, first with S.N.C.F.
“Tonight’s match is a handicap between two talented chefs on one side and our defending champion…”
I thought I would never live to see the day. At least when it came to witnessing a clash of culinary chefs to duke it out, live in front of my face. This is one of those times, that my fantasies of being live in a Top Chef/Iron Chef like competition is one step closer by participating in this particular event. However for these culinary technicians, think of these tournaments as the minor leagues just before they hit major. For this evening, it was a major handicap seeing the Duo of the Burnt Truck (Paul Cao and Phi Nguyen) take on the ruler of Royal Hawaiian and defending champion (James Harris).
The rules are simple, they had a few weeks to prepare their dishes with three supplemental ingredients and one mystery ingredient (revealed the day of the event), in this case it was Chickpeas (aka Garbanzo beans), Lamb and Artichokes, while the final ingredient revealed was Strawberry Jam. With 30 minutes on the clock (and a one point penalty, for every minute after they go over the time allotted), they are to finish their dishes and present them to the audience (making us judges as well). Here’s a timeline of photos to highlight the event as a whole, before I reveal the winners and my after thoughts:
Burnt Truck’s method to wow the audience was established by their theme of a progression in flavors.
Personally, my main hits were the 2nd, 4th and final dishes. The second was very light in the savory department, considering the albacore complimented well with the hints of chicharrones; I thought the two would clash like the participants on a Jerry Springer stage. The forth episode had the lamb and pork belly coming out and knocking you senseless on the savory spectrum.The final dish though provided a nice road down childhood lane, giving you their signature specialty and why they remain a force to be reckoned with as one of the top Orange County food trucks.
Chef James, on the other hand, wanted to highlight the Lamb and had a bit of a tough time, working with the curve ball provided (the strawberry jam). The main stars of the night: 1/2 of the second dish, 1/3rd of the third dish and 1 cup of the final drink?
Although I’m not a fan of artichokes, I can appreciate the time he took in preparing them, including the nice kick he added with the garlic aioli that was drizzled on each heart of every plate served. However that lamb bacon… I mean really.. it’s as though the pig reincarnated itself Dalai-lama style and transformed into Jesus Christ in Bacon form (bad analogy and definitely a cardinal sin, in religious references). The lamb bacon was good… real good. So good, even an audience member wanted to eat it all up for Thanksgiving this year, as she quipped to the rest of us.
Lastly, the mojito, I mean seriously, who doesn’t want to get drunk and be swayed in favoritism for the judging? It was crisp, clean and full of strawberry sweetness, without the mint leaf getting stuck in between of my teeth.
The S.N.C.F. staff tallied the scores and it was close. Due to the four-minute penalty Burnt Truck suffered, Mr. Harris had an extra chance to give him a bit more of a lead and docked the four points in creativity, allowing the final score… *drum roll please*.
*End drum roll*
Burnt Truck team: 246 points (250 points before four point penalty)
Royal Hawaiian team: 248 points (no penalty points, didn’t go over time limit)
Making Chef James Harris, still the undefeated Orange County Chef Champion for the evening. It was a close call and like the many episodes I’ve seen of Iron Chef, Top Chef, Chopped and etc, Time Management, Flavors, Finesse and Plating are essential in the aggressive world of competitive cooking. Again, a big thank you to Anne Marie of the O.C. Weekly for allowing me to spectate and appreciate this event, Standards of Excellence for providing the venue (a bittersweet ending, due to liquidation sale signs being posted everywhere) and of course the staff of Sunday Night Chef Fights, for giving me a taste of what it’s like, sitting ringside V.I.P. style when these culinary technicians dish it out.
A great job to both teams and hopefully I’ll be able to experience another one of these in the near future. Cheers.
Standards of Excellence
16001 Gothard Street
Huntington Beach, CA 92647