The most recent installment of Delray’s Chef vs. Chef Competition began with a decidedly First World Problem: Very few people know what to do with a pig’s ear. But let’s back up a bit.
As the preliminary weeks of Delray’s Chef vs. Chef Competition hurdle at breakneck speed towards completion, playtime is officially over. The stakes have raised, and Chef Eric Baker of Max’s Harvest—the competition’s fearless host and MC— is done effing around (in the parlance of our times, of course).
This week’s secret ingredients forced the battling chefs to dig deep into their lizard brains to come up with something not only edible, but praiseworthy. Pink, plump Florida shrimp were a freebee, but gargantuan, pendulous jackfruit and gelatinous, floppy pig ears were the wild cards. In the end, it was the pig ears that threatened to bring the whole darn thing down.
Sustainably-raised shrimp were donated by Florida Organic Aquaculture in Fellsmere, jackfruit came from Zill’s Farms in Boynton Beach, and the Florida Fresh Meat Co. provided the pig ears. Like week three’s secret ingredient, beef cheeks, the pig’s ears required pressure cooking. Ten minutes into the battle, Baker could be heard screaming, “Get those effing pig’s ears in the pressure cookers!”
This week’s panel of judges was comprised of Karen Granger, President and CEO of the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce; Katy Lynch, creator of the culinary website “Savor Tonight” (savortonight.com) and the Florida managing editor of Toronto-based Dine Magazine; and restaurateur and sommelier Michael Haycook, owner of The Grove in Delray Beach. Two “mystery judges” weighed in as well—week three competitor chef Victor Franco of Oceans 234 and Max’s Social House bartender and man-about-town “Roger.”
Chef Aaron Goldberg of Bogart’s in Boca Raton—Jersey-born and classically-trained—went with a “less is more” approach. His first dish, shrimp ceviche resting on a swish of jackfruit puree garnished with crispy nori and sweet potato chips, was elegantly plated. Franco called it “well balanced,” but another judge was dismayed by its saltiness.
Goldberg’s competitor, Tryst executive chef John Thomas, also went for simplicity. His first dish, a fried shrimp po’ boy with grilled jackfruit and pickled cucumber, was a hit with the judging majority, but perhaps it was too plebian for Haycook. “I wouldn’t serve a po’ boy at my restaurant,” he admitted. Karen Granger quipped, “I would have preferred a rich boy, but this is fantastic!” The judges agreed that it had the right balance of texture and flavor. “You can taste the texture!” Granger gushed (Apparently, jackfruit has hallucinogenic properties).
Forty minutes into the competition, the pig’s ears were still cooking. However, there was a distinct “pigginess” in the air, signaling their prompt arrival. As the remaining dishes were plated, Baker once again bellowed, “Hurry the f—k up! We’ve got seven minutes!”
Thomas' next dish, a generous bowl of shrimp coconut curry with rice noodles, was spicy and creamy. Goldberg countered with a shrimp sauté with fingerling potatoes, spinach, basil and watercress. Roger felt that Goldberg’s second dish lacked a sauce, or just perhaps a squeeze of citrus, to tie it together. “Like The Dude’s rug,” he explained.
The hour mark nearing with two dishes washed down with tequila shots, there was still a huge problem: no one had yet used the pig’s ears. Just in time, Goldberg brought out a composed dish of sautéed shrimp, a bright green “seafood mousse,” and a crispy pig ear garnish. Thomas countered with a straightforward plate of julienned fried pig ears with “barbecue-style mayo,” fully understanding the ancient culinary secret, “When in doubt, fry it up and serve it with a dank-ass dipping sauce.” That logic served him well, securing him the night’s win.
Who will be the victor in week six's battle between chefs Eric Grutka of Ian’s Tropical Grill vs. Jarod Higgins of Cut 432? Drop by Max's Harvest to find out.
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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 169 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.