Chef vs. Chef is a 16-week competition at Max's Harvest pitting local chefs against one another, cooking up surprise ingredients for a panel of judges — and our tasting pleasure.
In week three, chef Adam Brown of the Cooper in Palm Beach Gardens faced off against chef Aaron Goldberg of Bogart's Bar and Grille in Boca Raton.
Judging this week were Joey Giannuzzi, local organic cuisine ambassador and co-owner of Farmer’s Table in Boca Raton; Nicolay Adinaguev, executive chef of Diplomat Prime at the Diplomat Resort & Spa; and Stephen Chrisanthus, associate director of the Delray Beach Marketing Cooperative (DBMC) and associate editor of Frequent Flyer Magazine.
As usual, Max's Harvest executive chef Eric Baker played host and MC for the evening.
Brown and Goldberg were challenged to creatively prepare red Ossabaw pork secreto. A favorite Spanish butcher’s cut, secreto refers to a hidden flap on the bottom of the belly, similar to beef skirt steak. Boasting generous amounts of marbling, the meat is extremely tender, juicy, and rich, with a mild nutty flavor.
The second secret ingredient was tindora, or ivy gourd, a fruit native to Southeast Asia. It looks a lot like a small cucumber but tastes quite bland, which makes it useful in adding bulk to curries and chutneys. The third was local gallberry and orange blossom honey. Sourced from the Everglades in Davie up through the Honeybell Orange Groves in Stuart, this honey is rich, flavorful, and aromatic.
Brown’s first dish was light, seasonal, and refreshing. He plated up a tindora tartare with watermelon radish, avocado, Peruvian sweety drop peppers, and a garnish of fried sunchokes. Goldberg’s was seared Branzino fillet over a tindora and fingerling potato curry.
Both were promising but fell slightly short of the mark. Overall, Brown's dish lacked seasoning and acidity. And while judge Adinaguev mentioned that the fish was cooked correctly, the skin wasn’t crispy enough.
For his second dish, Brown put together halloumi à la plancha with grilled peaches and honey-papaya purée with aji Amarillo (a Peruvian yellow pepper paste).
"Another Peruvian ingredient? Are you sucking up to the Peruvian judge, chef Brown?" asked Baker, referring to Lima-born Adinaguev.
"It's because we have the best food, and everyone wants to serve it," responded Adinaguev.
Hard to argue there. The judging panel liked the balance of the salty halloumi, the sweet stone fruit, and a slight bitterness from the sear on the plancha.
Goldberg's second dish was pan-seared pork over sautéed summer squash and romesco (a thick sauce of roasted peppers, garlic, and nuts that originated in Spain), cleverly pairing the Spanish cut of pork with a Spanish sauce. Goldberg made his version with roasted red peppers, hazelnuts, and local honey.
The judges, however, thought it fell a little bit short of the genuine article.
Brown also whipped up a romesco sauce for his third dish — mojo-grilled pork with roasted fingerling potatoes. Brown's romesco got a better reception, however, and his fingerlings were cooked perfectly.
Finally, Goldberg's third dish was sous vide pork over beet, fennel, and honey purée with sautéed tindora. The pork was succulent, but the purée didn’t go over well with the judges. Since beets are inherently sweet, the addition of honey bumped the sweetness up a bit too much.
He followed up with a pork and tindora ragout with curry flavors. It was, by far, judge Giannuzzi’s favorite bite of the night.
Brown ended the night on a sweet note with strawberry-black pepper ice cream, made by Rachel Vondell of Uncommon Swirls, and candied tindora.
"It works!" said Giannuzzi.
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The battle was well-paced, both chefs putting out four dishes in an hour's time. Like last week, it was a close one, but Brown took the win.
Stay tuned for next week, when Eric Grutka of Ian's Tropical Grill in Stuart dukes it out with Brian Cartenuto of Tucker Duke's Lunchbox.
Chef vs. Chef takes place at 9 p.m. every Wednesday through September at Max's Harvest (169 NE Second Ave., Delray Beach.) The 16-week event series is open to the public for a $5 donation, which benefits the Milagro Center, a Delray Beach-based nonprofit that works to enrich children’s lives through the cultural arts and academic support. Your admission gets you one glass of wine, beer, or cocktail and a seat for the culinary action.