Delray's Chef vs. Chef Week Eight Gets Swampy With Frog Legs, Okra | Clean Plate Charlie | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida


Delray's Chef vs. Chef Week Eight Gets Swampy With Frog Legs, Okra

“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 founder Cary Roman, personal trainer and lifestyle coach Becca Tebon, and Southern Wine & Spirits rep Jason Schwerriner.

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. Its sometimes slimy texture — although a plus for thickening stews like gumbo — can be avoided by picking the vegetables when they're young and crisp.

Malatesta brought out the first dish of the night — grilled okra over frog “tonnato” sauce. Classically speaking, tonnato is kind of the Italian (Piedmontese, to be specific) take on surf and turf. It sounds a bit weird, but it’s an emulsified sauce made with fresh tuna, capers, and lemony mayonnaise that gets poured over thinly sliced veal. It’s a summertime dish, either served as the main course of a meal or as an antipasto.

Malatesta’s use of the frog legs in place of the tuna was a unique substitution. "It has a certain 'je ne sais quois,' doesn’t it?” asked Eric Baker.

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,” Schwerriner said. “I loved the fried-ness of it,” said Tebon. “The fried-ness is on point,” Baker agreed.
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.

Cocktail time arrived with Malatesta’s avocado martini — a mix of smooth avocado, cucumber vodka, Canton ginger liqueur, a dash of extra virgin olive oil, and sea salt. It was a hit with the judges and a timely palate-cleanser.
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 fried, and rested on a finely diced egg salad – almost a classic sauce gribiche – finished with avocado, raw okra, pickles, and browned garlic vinaigrette.

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). 

Week One: Chef vs. Chef: Local Chefs Battle for Culinary Supremacy Wednesdays at Max's Harvest 

Week Two: Delray’s Chef vs. Chef Picks Up Speed in Week Two With Chefs Paul Neidermann and James Strine 

Week Three: Delray’s Chef vs. Chef Week Three: Victor Franco, Oceans 234, and Victor Meneses of El Camino

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 

Week Six:  Delray’s Chef vs. Chef Competition Week Six: Eric Grutka of Ian’s Tropical Grill and Jarod Higgins of Cut 432

Week Seven: Delray's Chef vs. Chef Competition Week Seven: Bruce Feingold, Dada and Kelley Randall, of The Office

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.
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Claudia Dawson

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