The second installment of Delray’s Chef vs. Chef competition pitted James Strine, executive sous chef at Café Boulud in Palm Beach, against Paul Neidermann, executive chef at Hudson at Waterway East in Delray Beach.
The competition’s venue — Max’s Harvest in Delray — served $5 Happy Hour snacks throughout the night while a DJ set the tone with old-school hip-hop.
The rules of engagement dictated that the chefs make creative use of three secret ingredients in at least two dishes within an hourlong time limit. Big, beautiful oyster mushrooms from Okeechobee were unveiled first, followed by fava beans and fava bean shoots, and finally veal sweetbreads from Ocala.
Eschewing a chef coat, Chef Strine donned a blue mechanic’s shirt and white suspenders and brandished a Mickey Mouse peppermill.
Neidermann kept it real with a camouflage apron and bandanna as he strategized his battle plan. Presiding over this week’s battle were Farmer Jay (AKA Jason McCobb) of Farmer Jay Pure Organics, Denise Righetti of Savor Our City Culinary Tours, and Michelle Olson-Rogers of ModernBocaMom.com.
As soon as the countdown began, pots and pans were on the heat: Neidermann poaching sweetbreads and sweet potatoes in chicken stock and Strine clarifying butter for a hollandaise and searing oyster mushrooms.
The first dish to grace the judges' table came from Strine: a seasonally appropriate salad of heirloom tomatoes, fava beans, and oyster mushrooms with a sesame oil and peppery togarashi (Japanese Seven Spice) vinaigrette.
Neidermann’s first dish—a pan-roasted sweetbread with soy lemon caper beurre blanc, shaved carrot, tangerine and fava tendrils elicited the curious but earnest interjection, “It’s in my mouth!” from one of the judges. Strine made good use of the smoker set up on the back patio with his second dish: smoked soy sweetbreads with hand-crushed fava beans and mint hollandaise.
Neidermann countered with a dish of grilled sweetbreads with sweet potato purée, sunburst squash, fava and oyster mushroom ragout, and sherry gastrique. “Rich flavors,” remarked Farmer Jay. Hedging his bets, Strine put out four distinct dishes to Neidermann’s two. A gratin of roasted sweetbreads, summer squash and oyster mushrooms bubbled in a cast-iron cocotte, and smoked fried sweetbreads rested atop a coconut sweet potato purée graced with baby bok choy and oyster mushrooms solidified Strine’s week-two win.
Who will be the victor in week three's battle between Victor Meneses of El Camino and Victor Franco of Oceans 234? Drop by Max's Harvest to find out.
Week one: Chef Ben Burger (Neiman Marcus, Boca Raton) versus Chef Adam Brown (The Cooper, Palm Beach Gardens)
Chef vs. Chef will be held Wednesday nights at 9:30 at Max’s Harvest from June 17 through September 30. Admission is $10. Max's Harvest is located at 69 NE Second Ave., Delray Beach. $10 entry fee benefits the Naoma Donnelley Haggin Boys and Girls Club and gets you one complimentary libation. Visit the Facebook event page.