The weekly competition hosted by Max’s Harvest never ceases to amaze and befuddle with last-minute ingredients and judges. This week’s change-up introduced us to “Mama Gizzi,” an old-world pasta-maker out of Lake Worth, who ended up stealing the show. The pint-sized dynamo donated three of her handmade pastas to the night’s competition: tomato-basil mafaldine (a long pasta similar to pappardelle but slimmer), squid-ink linguine, and rotelle.
Channeling Al Pacino, Mama Gizzi brazenly challenged, “You wanna smell a woman? Smell my black squid ink pasta—then we’ll talk!” With that, she grabbed a handful of the stuff, flung it back down on the plate and said, “I’ll give it back to you!” Befuddling, indeed. Those few in the crowd of innocent hearts and minds were, at that moment, corrupted forever.
Other judges included husband and wife team Rich and Andrea Garcia — Andrea an active member of the Junior League of Boca Raton and Senior Sales Consultant of Oasis Outsourcing, and Rich, Sales Engineer at Adams Air & Hydraulics who paid his dues as a chef for 15 years at such local establishments as Café Max, Max’s Grill, Big City Tavern and Gotham City. Self-proclaimed “bartender-turned Wall Street hustler" Justin Tompkins completed the judging panel.
Farmer Jay’s Chinese Red Noodle Beans (a type of Chinese long bean) were the second secret ingredient, organically grown in Delray Beach.
The final ingredient—flown in from Hokkaido, Japan, and arguably the single most sexy, delicate, rich, unmistakably umami ingredient the entire universe has to offer—was uni. Generally referred to as sea urchin “roe,” Uni is actually sea urchin sperm, which each and every judge would soon enjoy with gusto in every single dish (Insert innuendo here.) Uni is known to contain a euphoria-causing chemical ingredient that nudges the endocannabinoid system of the brain, which is partially responsible for pleasure and pain signals. Make of that, what you will.
This week's contenders were Bruce Feingold, executive chef of Delray's Dada and three-time Garlic Fest winner, and Chicago native Kelley Randall, executive chef at the Office. After a brief 15-minute brainstorming session, the chefs got to work. These guys were focused, quiet, and downright stoic. At that point, Max’s Harvest executive chef and MC Eric Baker knew it was time to break the ice, sending chef Jarod Higgins to the kitchen to deliver some much-needed tequila shots.
Soon after downing his shot with a grimace, Feingold delivered the first dish: spoonfuls of tempura-fried Uni resting on fat dollops of sriracha aioli spiked with fish sauce. (Talk about umami!) Mrs. Garcia said, “The uni is surprisingly delicious!”
Randall’s first dish featured the mafaldine pasta in a sweet and spicy uni sauce made with Tamari, shallot, sriracha, honey and lime juice— topped off with a fried egg. If this juxtaposition of Italian pasta and Asian-inspired ingredients seems incongruous, it’s actually not. The world’s biggest producers—and eaters—of Uni are Japan and Italy.
Feingold’s second dish was a long bean salad with charred grapefruit and toasted macadamia nuts. The Garcias loved it, agreeing that it was a “light, summer-appropriate dish.” Randall’s second: Bacon mac n’ cheese with uni and hint of truffle oil. Feingold’s third: an “old country style” pasta dish that looked—and smelled gorgeous. The mafaldine pasta was bathed in an unctuous, buttery uni sauce with pancetta and fresh herbs. “This friggin’ dish was brilliant,” raved Mama Gizzi.
Randall’s final presentation continued the tradition (begun last week by chef Eric Grutka) of using the secret ingredient in a cocktail. The twofold dish was a BLT on toasted brioche with paper-thin slices of apple, tomato, and micro greens. Alongside it was the uni shot—Sambuca and uni, straight up. Mrs. Garcia was the first brave soul to down the shot, very classily.
In the end, it was Garlic Fest champ Feingold who took the win. As always, a great time was had by all, and that’s what it’s all about at Max’s Harvest on Wednesday nights.
Stop by next week to catch week eight as Chris Miracolo from S3 and Blake Malatesta of 50 Ocean battle it out for the hungry crowds.
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Week Four: Max's Harvest's Chef v. Chef Week Four: Danielle Herring, The Rebel House and Billy Estis, Kapow! Noodle Bar
Week Five: Delray’s Chef vs. Chef Competition Week Five: The Best Ways to Cook Pig Ears
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.