Oh my goodness. What a weekend of incredible cooking and eating at the 4th annual Minnesota Monthly Local Chef Challenge at Mall of America.
And what a worthy winner: Piccolo chef Doug Flicker overcame struggles with an electric cooktop in the first round that nearly knocked him out of the competition because of some undercooked buffalo liver, to eventually knock off Butcher & the Boar chef Jack Riebel in the dessert round for the $10,000 grand prize.
My fellow bloggers, Chef Jason Ross and recipe tester/food wizard Stephanie Meyer, and I had a tough time in many of these rounds, where the chefs distinguished themselves by being true to their styles of cooking while embracing our crazy secret ingredients.
Some of the most competitive rounds were in the preliminaries on Saturday: Jim Christiansen, late of La Belle Vie, Sea Change, Il Gatto, and Doug Flicker really had a tight match with their buffalo liver, garbanzo beans, chili oil, chocolate-covered pecans round. Flicker’s dish popped with a late spritz of lime, and the first bite was heavenly. But the second bite was undercooked. What to do as a judge? Christiansen’s dish wasn’t as flavorful as Flicker’s—and ultimately taste trumped all. By one point. Man that one was close.
The last round of day one was the most intense round I’ve ever judged: Chef Jack Riebel against Chef Vincent Francoual. Both of these men wanted the win, big-time. Both had won the whole thing before, and knew how to get it done. Chef Vincent’s dish would have won any other round of the day, but Chef Jack’s dish was the best dish of the entire competition, and the best dish of the four competitions I’ve judged. The ingredients were turkey tenderloin, honeycomb, turmeric root, and black licorice. Jack created a turkey curry that was complex and delicious, wrapped it in a roll, and served it beautifully. It was a knockout dish that I’m craving today.
Day two featured Jim Kyndberg, a chef I didn’t know much about personally because his acclaimed Bayport Cookery closed in my earlier years here in the Twin Cities. Now he’s the culinary director at Crave, and he can cook. His branzini fish held up in flavor with Doug Flicker’s branzini, but Kyndberg later confirmed that he put one too many things on the plate (a pile of noodles topped with prosciutto that was fine, but didn’t add to the dish), and that got him knocked out.
Landon Schoenefeld, the chef/co-owner at HauteDish took on Jack Riebel in the semi with rainbow trout, canned tuna, and dandelion greens—and Landon went with a presentation of the whole fish. It was gorgeous. Stunning. But there were still bones in the fish. A critical mistake this late in the competition, and Jack seized it preparing a delicious fish with an incredible tuna sauce. Riebel knows how to sauce.
The final came down to perfect execution versus near-perfection. Doug Flicker’s floating islands dessert was a stunner. Jack Riebel slightly burned his phyllo dough in his napoleon dessert. And that’s all it takes. Thirty seconds too long in the oven, the difference between the $10,000 championship and taking home $1,000 for second.
All of these chefs are so talented. Patrick Atanalian from Sanctuary made a gorgeous pho-inspired dish in round one that featured quail and black bean spaghetti. Chris Thompson’s wonderfully seasoned veal brains was just edged out by the perfect crust of Landon’s brains.
We had a blast. You should go to these restaurants. And tell us what you liked, and what you didn’t like about the competition. It was great this year—we want to make it even better next year!
Here’s the breakdown of every round:
Doug (left), Jim (right)
Doug Flicker (Piccolo) vs. Jim Christiansen
Ingredients: Buffalo liver, sprouted garbanzo beans, chili oil, and dark chocolate-covered pecans.
Judges comments: While Jim’s buffalo liver was nicely seared, the overall flavor and presentation of Doug’s dish scored more points.
Victor: Doug Flicker
Ingredients: Quail, black bean spaghetti, bosc pears, and tahini sauce.
Judges comments: The presentation of Patrick’s dish was creative, but the flavor of Jim’s quail-two-ways dish couldn’t be beat.
Victor: Jim Kyndberg
Ingredients: Veal brains, Big Woods bleu cheese, pomegranate molasses and chipotle lime crackers.
Judges comments: While Chris & Landon prepared similar dishes, the beautiful crust on Landon’s veal brains was most delicious, particularly with a blue cheese fondue.
Victor: Landon Schoenefeld
Ingredients: Turkey tenderloin, honeycomb, turmeric root and black licorice
Judges comments: Both Vincent’s & Jack’s dishes were clever and sophisticated, but Jack’s dish won most points for knock-out flavor and beautiful, colorful presentation.
Victor: Jack Riebel
Ingredients: Branzini (whole), canned sardines, pumpkin seeds, and tamarind chutney
Judges Comments: Refined against powerful taste. Very close, but came down to one ingredient too many on Jim’s plate; fabulous sauce, but could have done without the noodles.
Victor: Doug Flicker
Ingredients: Rainbow trout, canned tuna, dandelion greens, and ginger beer.
Judges Comments: Jack’s win over Landon came down to detail in preparation – Landon’s whole trout presentation, while beautiful, did not have all the bones removed; Jack’s dish did. The judges also appreciated the use of tuna in Jack’s tonnato sauce.
Victor: Jack Riebel
Ingredients: Phyllo dough, dried blueberries, Thai basil, and barley malt syrup.
Judges Comments: Meringue a blank canvas, but floating in a complex soup. Jack’s dough a bit burnt.
2012 Local Chef Challenge Winner: Doug Flicker!