The fourth week of Delray’s Chef vs. Chef competition did not fail to amuse and inspire. Whereas last week began with table-dancing judges, this week ended with banquette booty dancing.
The night’s judges were Renée Korbel-Quinn, mixology and lifestyle editor for Eye on South Florida and a member of the culinary advisory board at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale; Deby Goldfarb, restaurant writer and food critic for Simply the Best magazine; and John Paul Kline, chef/owner of Delray’s 3rd and 3rd Restaurant. Guests were greeted by Honey Ackermann, event sales and marketing coordinator for the Max Group, who runs the weekly event and recruits chefs, judges, and sponsors.
On to the secret ingredients: Locally adored Farmer Jay returned this week with a bounty of summer squash — with varietal names like Lebanese, Flying Saucers, and Zephyrs — and their blossoms, chosen for their adaptability to South Florida summer heat and speedy maturation. Oregon’s Hood River Valley provided juicy Ranier cherries and quail from Regal Quail Farm in Summerfield, Florida, was as fresh as it gets.
Witty MC and Max’s Harvest chef Eric Baker presided over the battle between Danielle Herring of the Rebel House and Billy Estis, sous chef at Kapow! Noodle Bar and last-minute stand-in for chef Chey Frey. Herring was poised and ready, her face betraying no more emotion than the Mona Lisa. Estis, his rowdy but loyal entourage in tow, exuded the confidence and exuberance of a fun-loving frat boy. Right from the start, Estis set the mood by allowing Baker to cut the “cheeks” out of his chef pants, transforming them into chaps to show off his star-spangled boxers. That important piece of business out of the way, the battle commenced. The two chefs had very different tactics. Herring was definitely the planning type, like General George S. Patton. Estis, a self-described “flying by the seat of my pants” (or no pants, in this case) type of guy, was like a Kamikaze bomber — unhinged and dangerous.
Estis presented the first dish of the night: Thai Chile-Glazed Quail Wings. As you’d imagine, quail wings are very small, so eating them is akin to eating baby corn like regular corn on the cob. Still, they were a hit. Herring countered with her version of Hawaiian Poke, using local wahoo, cherries, and citrus. She also included a cherry-stuffed, tempura-fried squash blossom. Judge Deby Goldfarb called the dish “sensual, sweet, and spicy.”
Estis banged out three more dishes before the competition’s end: a tempura-fried squash blossom stuffed with shrimp and bacon, roasted quail with blanched zucchini and cherry gastrique, and a take on Peruvian “Aji de Gallina” with a spicy Peruvian yellow pepper sauce. Herring’s standout dish was a thoughtful and balanced pan-roasted quail with summer squash latkes, smoked cherry mostarda, and hazelnut brittle.
With mere minutes to spare, both chefs managed impromptu desserts — Estis a cherry vanilla bread pudding with crunchy pecans and warm cherries and Herring with a chocolate cherry mole pancake with poached cherries and orange simple syrup. In a close decision, Estis emerged the winner, strutting out into the roaring crowd and the warm embraces of his compatriots.
Who will be the victor in week five's battle between chefs John Thomas of Tryst and Aaron Goldberg of Bogart’s? Drop by Max's Harvest to find out.
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
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 69 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.