The now-bustling Atlantic Avenue area that makes up Downtown Delray Beach was once plagued by urban blight until the late ‘90s, but it’s been on a major upswing in recent years. Efforts by the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) have attracted a younger group of permanent residents, created a demand for housing and legitimate eateries, and enticed talented chefs.
Delray is ready for its come-up. Its chefs are clamoring for their street cred. And what better way to gain it than to host an epic throwdown for gastronomic glory?
With weekly bracket battles, inspired by the Esquire Network show Knife Fights, Chef v. Chef will be held Wednesday nights at 9:30 at Max’s Harvest. Continuing for 15 weeks and open to the public, the $10 entry fee benefits the Naoma Donnelley Haggin Boys and Girls Club and gets you one complimentary libation.
The first battle of blades was this Wednesday, June 17 between friendly foes, Adam Brown (The Cooper, Palm Beach Gardens) and Ben Burger (Neiman Marcus, Boca Raton).
Max’s Harvest Executive chef, Eric Baker, emceed the first competition, which was judged by South Florida restaurant legend Dennis Max, former Palm Beach Post food editor Jan Davis, and renowned luxury caterer Bill Hanson.
Chefs Brown and Burger once worked side-by-side as executive chef and sous chef at Henry’s in west Delray—known for its consistent upscale comfort food. Because of that, perhaps, their culinary styles almost mirrored each other.
The three secret ingredients of the night were eggplant varietals from Green Cay Farms (Beatrice, Charming, Rosa Bianca and Nubia); celecornia, A.K.A. sea beans; and wild king salmon from British Columbia.
The battle commenced with Burger tasked to break down his half of an entire salmon (not an easy feat) and grilling slices of eggplant while Brown started several reductions, including what would become an apple cider and whole grain mustard emulsion.
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Interestingly, both chefs chose to do a salmon tartare—Burger opting for the belly portion and Brown choosing the filet. Although Burger’s take on “smoked” salmon tartare—owing the smoky component to smoked mirin, a sweet Japanese wine—on a thick piece of crostini had visual appeal, it was Brown’s use of the sea beans and playfulness in his technique that ultimately won the judges over. Shrimp-studded sorghum (an ancient, gluten-free grain similar to quinoa), eggplant and sea bean “caponata,” and smoked and roasted fingerling potatoes held aloft a perfectly-seared salmon filet.
Tune in next week, when Café Boulud veteran Jimmy Strine goes head-to-head with Hell’s Kitchen alum Paul Neidermann.
Chef v. 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. Visit the Facebook event page.