Our previews of interesting/fun food happenings.
Jul 13, 2012
Taste of Buffalo's 2012 Culinary Stage
A panel of food professionals act as judges for the Culinary Stage's Nickel City Chef Battle: Sausage
This year, the Taste of Buffalo’s Culinary Stage schedule was packed with tons of local culinary talent.
Swaciak and Gehrke
Saturday kicked off with the Nickel City Chef Sous Chef Battle. Chef James Gehrke returned as the reigning champ after winning last year in a similar battle featuring corn. This year, his challenger was chef Dustin Swaciak, sous chef for the very popular bistro, Shango. The two had 40 minutes to complete two courses featuring Furmano tomatoes. Both chefs did a great job, and the judges had to make quick working of picking the best pair of dishes using taste, creativity, technical execution, plating, and how well Furmano's tomatoes were showcased as their guidelines. The panel included chef and author Mary Ann Giordano, Mont Stern, the bailli for the local chapter of the Chaine des Rotissuers, Buffalo Spree's own Julia Burke, and a lucky audience member. In the end, Chef Gehrke took the title home with him, back to his post in the kitchen at Mike A at Hotel Lafayette. His tomato tasting (which included a tomato water Bloody Mary, a play on the classic BLT with pork belly filling in for the bacon, and a modernized caprese salad) and cioppino with tomato pasta won out over Swaciak's first course of chilled tomato bisque with blackened shrimp and white balsamic air, and his second course of handmade gnocchi with mozzarella and marinara.
Swaciak's gnocchi dish; Gehrke's cioppino
Next up was a Nickel City Chef showdown, hosted by Toronto's Ivy Knight. Knight cracked jokes and cheered the audience on in her unique and irreverent way while Nickel City Chef Brian Mietus of Bacchus and newest Nickel City Chef Jennifer Boye from the Mansion prepared their meanest slider for the judges. The panel of judges included Don Burtless of BuffaloEats.org, comedian and Nickel City Chef regular Kristen Becker, and Buffalo Spree food writer Julia Burke. Boye's slider was inspired by classic Mexican carnitas. Braised pork, ground beef, and ground veal were combined to create a perfect playground for Boye's rainbow of condiments, which included beer-battered Anaheim peppers, chimichurri mayo, and red onion pickles. All of this was served on a cornmeal dusted kaiser roll with a queso blanco dipping sauce. Despite Boye's use of big, bold flavors, Mietus' burger, consisting of a custom blended meat from Johnny's Meats and a slightly sweet brioche roll from Romeo & Juliet's, took the win. His toppings, which included a fresh farmers cheese he made on stage, coupled with roasted chili tomato chutney and a sweet corn aioli ,won raves from the judges.
Boye (l) and Meitus (r) prepared their favorite slider for the judges. Boye's (top) had a Mexican vibe, while Mietus (bottom) used seasonal ingredients, such as corn and tomatoes, to add flavor.
Teams of firefighters compete for the win in the Smokin' Hot Buffalo Firehouse Cook Off
The event that brought the most attendees to the Culinary Stage over the course of the weekend was the Smokin’ Hot Buffalo Firehouse Cook Off, sponsored by New Era Cap and Buffalo Spree magazine. The competition was open to City of Buffalo firefighters. Entries containing original recipes were submitted and the best two were chosen to compete. Firefighter Christian Cunningham of Ladder 2 cooked "Sexy Shrimp Scampi" and firefighter Mike Chase of Truck 6 prepared "Jefferson Avenue Pepper Chicken Pasta". Buffalo’s own Bert Gambini hosted the live competition. Non-stop fun was had during the competition. With many of our city’s brave firefighters in the audience, a good atmosphere of camaraderie existed among the group. The panel of judges selected Cunningham’s healthy shrimp scampi as the winning dish by a very narrow margin. This panel included Andrew Galarneau, food critic for The Buffalo News, Donnie Burtless of BuffaloEats.org, and grillmaster Jeff Rexinger of Artisan Kitchens & Baths. Cunningham received a great prize package including a set of knives from Cutco, a surround sound system from Artisan Kitchens & Baths, a set of tickets to Bills, Sabres, and Bisons games from New Era Cap, and a gift card from Tops. Buffalo Spree readers will learn more about Cunningham and his recipe in the October issue of Spree.
Cunningham's winning Sexy Shrimp Scampi
Saturday evening’s schedule was rounded out by a cooking lesson from longtime Taste of Buffalo veteran, Krista Van Wagner, owner of Curly’s Grill & Banquet Center. Her recipes demonstrated how French cuisine can be modernized and simplified, an can be prepared—in her words—“from the heart, for the heart”.
Sunday’s schedule of events began off with the weekend's second Nickel City Chef exposition. This time Nickel City Chef Adam Goetz of Sample took on Nickel City Chef JJ Richert of Torches. The audience cheered as each chef prepared their take on the summertime standard: peppers and onions. These chefs couldn’t have cooking style that were more different if they tried. Goetz’s offering was all about technique, where Richert excelled with big flavor and showmanship, but who would expect anything less? The judging panel included chef Mike Andrzejewski (Sea Bar, Cantina Loco and Mike A at Hotel Lafayette), Ben Tsujimoto, food writer for Buffalo.com, Nina Barone of Buffalo Spree and BuffaloFoodie.com, and foodie/Buffalo Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Nelson Starr.
Goetz and Richert's take on the very traditional offering of sausage and peppers were wildly different.
Goetz made his sausage by hand and stuffed it inside braised leeks, rather than a sausage casing. The other components were also re-imagined and enhanced, in typical Goetz fashion. Roasted red pepper foam, charred tomatoes, and pickled shallots were the major players. Richert opted for Tops brand Italian sausage, his family’s favorite. The sausage was grilled on the evo cooktop the Culinary Stage kitchen is outfitted with, but Richert added steam and flavor by pouring cups of beer over the sausage as they cooked. He then warmed the buns by placing them, open faced, on top of the cooking sausage. Finally, he served his sausage with sautéed peppers and onions, and his favorite sausage sauce (a blend of ketchup, yellow mustard, whole grain mustard, and sririacha). The judges loved both dishes, but Goetz ultimately emerged the winner.
Elliott's gorgeous, delicious nicoise salad
An hour later, Independent Health presented a cooking demonstration by Merge restaurant’s chef, Kate Elliott. Chef Elliott prepared a quinoa and wild, line-caught salmon nicoise salad. Made with fresh ingredients, many of which were locally-sourced, Elliott's dish was beautiful and delicious. She also prepared a massaged kale salad with red onions and local blueberries. Both were colorful, healthy, and utterly very good. In between the demonstrations, Independent Health’s Red Shirt team enlivened the audience up with a t-shirt toss.
Throughout the weekend authors signed books and met readers in front of the Culianry Stage, including Janice Okun with her book, "Buffalo Cooks with Janice Okun", and award-winning author Laura Anhalt with her lauded cookbook, "Mexican Flavors". Aslo ongoing was Cutco's generous award to all of the weekend's winners, stunning knife sets.
The Culinary Stage gives the Taste of Buffalo’s many visitors a chance to meet local chefs and get a sense of the exciting things that are happening in kitchens all over our region. Many thanks to the many sponsors who make the weekend’s events a success: Tops Friendly Markets, Artisan Kitchens & Baths, Cutco, New Era Cap, Furmano, Independent Health, Jack Daniel’s Sauces, and EZ Marinader.