Chef vs. Chef 2016 Bonus Round: And the Winner Is Still Clay Carnes

Chef vs. Chef is a 16-week competition at Max's Harvest hosted by chef Eric Baker that pits local chefs against one another, cooking up surprise ingredients for a panel of judges — and our tasting pleasure.

Last week, we told you that Clay Carnes was the 2016 Chef vs. Chef champion. And that's true. What we didn't tell you was that there was one final battle to go, against 2015 winner James Strine of Grato in Palm Beach, for the title of Grand Champion. (As if Carnes wasn't exhausted enough. He made it through three grueling rounds of the competition, bested some very worthy adversaries, and opened a restaurant all in the span of a few weeks.)

If Carnes lost this one, it would mean enjoying his champion status for exactly one week and one day before having it whisked away by Strine. Good thing Carnes never plans on losing. Thursday night's battle was the culmination of this year's Chef vs. Chef series, and it took place during the "On the Ave" event along NE Second Avenue in Pineapple Grove, a block party featuring street-side art and live music sets by Future Prezidents and WT Heck.

Three judges presided over the battle:
  • Tory Martingdale, 20-year veteran of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
  • Blake Malatesta, executive chef/owner of M.I.A. in Delray Beach
  • Jason Pereira, personal chef
Three secret ingredients were provided for this (and every Chef vs. Chef battle this year) by Sunshine Provisions:
  • Smoked trout roe are sweet and briny fish eggs with a combination of cherry and apple wood smoke. They taste like spherical smoked salmon with burst with flavor. 
  • Kabocha squash, also known as Japanese pumpkin, is shaped like a squat pumpkin with knobby, deep green skin and white stripes. It has an intense yellowish orange color on the inside and an exceptionally sweet flavor that's even sweeter than butternut squash. 
  • Veal sweetbreads refer to either the thymus gland (located in the neck) or the pancreas of a calf. 
As Carnes and Strine got down to cooking, it was evident that this battle was a friendly one. Neither chef had anything to prove, except that he knows how to have a good time. You already know who won, so here's the rundown:

Carnes’ dishes:
  • Pan-seared sweetbreads with mezcal-agave reduction 
  • Roasted squash and potato cake with smoked trout caviar 
  • Sweetbread quesadilla with smoked trout roe aioli
  • Roasted sweet and spiced squash with Amaretto cream and toasted peanuts 
Strine’s dishes:
  • Canape of roasted kombucha squash with trout roe and Worcestershire crema
  • Roasted squash with poached egg, smoked trout roe, and chili vinaigrette 
  • Lobster and sweetbread grilled cheese with cream cheese, smoked trout roe, and pea sprouts 
  • Fried sweetbreads and barbecued-roasted squash
Over the course of sixteen weeks, we've seen interesting ingredients manipulated by interesting people in interesting ways. For the most part, the competition has focused on locally sourced ingredients (lionfish, tilefish, swordfish, okra, sorghum, honey, locally made cheeses). Lesser cuts of meat and offal have gotten top billing (beef hearts, marrow bones, lamb belly, chicken livers, pig's blood), and even the vegans got their way one week. The most interesting dish this year was Eric Grutka's enchanting papaya-sardine ice cream. Let's hope next year's dishes are even weirder.