“It’s been a long, long, long journey,” said Max’s Harvest executive chef Eric Baker. The night marked the halfway point of the competition and the last preliminary battle before the quarterfinals begin next week. So far, we’ve seen triumph, defeat, blood, sweat, table-dancing, lap-dancing, egregious displays of public intoxication, and a never-ending stream of innuendoes. And that’s just from the judges.
Competitors this week were two chefs with Italian surnames: Chris Miracolo, hailing from “Strong Island,” New York, who is executive chef of S3 in Fort Lauderdale, and Louisiana native Blake Malatesta, executive chef of 50 Ocean in Delray.
Weighing in this week were LivingFLA.com founder Cary Roman, personal trainer and lifestyle coach Becca Tebon, and Southern Wine & Spirits rep Jason
Max’s Harvest does a great job of keeping it local with the secret ingredients, and tonight was certainly no exception. We tend to forget that South Florida is basically a huge swamp with a largely agricultural past. Frog legs and Farmer Jay’s okra reminded us. Several early varieties of Florida avocados from Zill’s Farms were freshly plucked from trees and perfectly ripe.
Widely used in French and Cantonese cuisine, frog legs are one of those foods that we pass up here in the United States (the cast of Duck Dynasty not included). Adding to their “yuck factor,” the legs resolve rigor mortis very slowly, so sometimes heat from cooking can cause them to twitch.
Okra, related to hibiscus and cotton, is also known as ladies' fingers or bhindi. The entire okra plant is edible, including the leaves and flowers.
Malatesta brought out the first dish of the night — grilled okra over frog “
Malatesta’s use of the frog legs in place of the tuna was a unique substitution. "It has a certain '
Miracolo’s first dish was a potato-crusted frog leg with two sauces: a sweet corn “jus” and an avocado okra purée. “The frog leg is very tender,”
Malatesta’s second dish was a take on gumbo with beans, okra and its greens, corn, smoked potatoes, beer, and (of course) the “holy trinity” (bell peppers, onion, celery). It was very light, almost brothy, with a light vegetal aroma.
Miracolo’s second dish was composed of cornmeal-crusted boneless frog legs, avocado, and okra with a sweet and spicy sriracha-based sauce. “The heat is almost overwhelming, but the avocado mellows it,” said Roman.
Miracolo’s third dish, coconut curry stewed frog legs with mango and fried okra, was fragrant and very light. Fresh basil gave it just enough herbaceousness.
“Legs and Eggs” was Malatesta’s fourth and final contribution. Lollipop frog legs were smoked, then
With suspense and the last whiffs of cooking aromas in the air, the judges chose Miracolo as the winning chef.
Tune in next week for the first battle of the quarterfinals, when chef Adam Brown (The Cooper) takes on James Strine (Café Boulud).
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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.