With Round Four of the Citywide 86’d contest now on the books, the stage is set for the grand finale to name Austin’s top chef 2015 — or rather — the person who can run, sweat, chop, fry, maybe even sauté, something delicious on a tight timer, better than anyone else. No pressure (cooker) there. The May 2nd round named the final contestant to join three previous winners, to compete in the Citywide 86’d finale on June 15th at the AT&T Center at the University of Texas.
But we jump ahead of ourselves. For those who’ve been playing along, Round Four did not disappoint with mystery ingredients like alligator, Cheez-it’s, and turmeric (more on that later – but note, chefs must use ALL ingredients in their bag).
For those who’re just catching up on the Citywide 86’d competition, if you’ve seen the Food Network’s hit show Chopped you know the drill. A quick tutorial on the elimination contest. Four chefs gather in the kitchen of Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. They’re asked to cook, create or invent, three dishes — an appetizer, entrée and desert. After each dish, taste testing judges name one chef the winner and declare one is “chopped” or in this case, 86’d.
The cast of characters in Round Four:
Chef contenders included Gino Angulo of Gardner a restaurant with emphasis on seasoned vegetables, Todd Chikuma, who’s a big fan of affordable quality red wines, from the restaurant Trace, Joel Garza who worked his way up through Uchiko before joining their newest spot, St. Phillip, and Fabian Martinez, who started cooking as a teenager, of the restaurant Olivia.
At the judging table we had Taylor Ellison from KEYE-TV, Veronica Meewes a journalist who specializes in food, drink and travel, and Scotty Szekretar a chef himself and currently director of Culinary Development for Violet Crown Management.
Now, without further ado, let’s start with an appetizer!
As the four chefs stood at back-to-back stainless workstations they tore into mystery bags filled with four must use secret ingredients. All seemed fairly mellow as one after the other pulled alligator, green tomatoes, radish seed pods and Camouflage Cake Mix, from brown paper bags. The chefs are judged on presentation, taste, difficulty and use of the mystery ingredients, in each round. As Todd Chikuma told the judges when he saw what was in the bag he quickly opted for “fish and chips.” When asked what was the biggest challenge in the appetizer round, he laughed, “Finding out it was not a fish … but an amphibious creature!” He wasn’t the only one uncertain of the pinkish pieces of uncooked protein. In the end Joel Garza of St. Phillip took the round with his deep fried alligator in an herb yogurt. Fabian Martinez’ appetizer didn’t make the cut and he was 86’d.
Entrée – The main course of course.
Smoked Sausage, fresh turmeric, epazote (we didn’t know either — it’s veggie-like, like cilantro) and a mini bottle of Dr. Pepper were on the ingredient list for the entrée round. The chefs’ dishes ranged from comfort food to the more unexpected. Chef Joel Garza even brought out the big guns in the form of liquid nitrogen. Some said part of the challenge of this round was working with something that had already been cooked, the sausage. Joel said his goal was to “transform the barbeque into something that was fresh and alive.” Gino presented a “take on sausage and peppers … with a hearty pasta.” And Todd went with a street taco. As the judges nibbled away he realized, “I forgot the turmeric!” The bag presented him with items he said he enjoys cooking and eating, “other than turmeric—now I hate turmeric!” And with that Todd Chikuma was 86’d. Must use all the ingredients in the mystery bag. Joel Garza walked away with the win.
Last but not least – Dessert:
The dessert round may be best categorized as the round that used the most creative methods. Joel Garza and Gino Angulo faced off in this stage. Must use ingredients included carrots, borage blossoms, cocoa nibs and Cheez-It Crackers. Joel used a mandolin for chopping, more liquid nitrogen, and microwaved coffee cups he’d punched with holes. He was working on what he called a “deconstructed carrot cake.” Gino, meanwhile, showed utmost patience, while facing the timed challenge, as he “frothed egg yolks” and sugar. The thing is, when frothing, don’t have enough patience and you end up with scrambled eggs. In the end — drum roll in your head please — Joel Garza won over the judges and their sweet tooths (sweet teeth?), and the opportunity to move on to the finale in June.
“I knew I wanted to do a microwave cake,” Joel said, adding that his approach to the competition was all in the planning. He explained he worked out what he wanted to make, tweaking as he saw what ingredients he’d be faced with. “My goal was to not cook anything and not forget anything!” Faced with uncooked gator however he was forced to change his no-cook plan. As for the finale on June 15th — Joel Garza says he’ll be working on a fresh game plan, “I burned through a lot of my ideas (today).”
If you’d like to attend the finale you will need a ticket. You can find them at www.citywide86d.com
By Nancy Miller Barton
Photography by Nancy Miller Barton