“The secret ingredient is ... ROOT VEGETABLE!”
And with that, the first ever iron chef-style competition was kicked off at the Clarke Culinary Center in South Norwalk. The event pitted two of the neighborhood’s most well known chefs, Fritz Knipschildt of Cafe Chocopologie and Knipschildt Chocolatier against Matt Storch, chef and partner at Match who have collectively been serving up some of South Norwalk’s best meals for over 22 years. This event was an unforgettable evening of inventive food, chef personalities and culinary surprises that will stand as one of my favorite food moments this year.
The crowd of 50 strong assembled in “kitchen stadium,” an open area of two live and fully equipped kitchen spaces with emcee Sean Clarke, Clarke’s general manager and a group of three judges that would cast the deciding votes on the evening’s best meal. The judges included Dina Cheney, author and columnist for Everyday with Rachel Ray, Prasad Chirnomula, owner of Thali Restaurants and Marianne Howatson, CEO of Cottages & Gardens publications.
As the secret ingredient was announced, the chefs launched into a full out fury of prepping, sauteeing and chopping as the crowd squeezed in between the two spaces close enough to the action to feel the heat from the sauces soon simmering on the stove top and the sheet pans flying by into ovens piled with components for courses to come. Add the din and jostling of the crowd to the mix and the kitchen soon felt very much like what I’d image “kitchen stadium” feels like minus Alton Brown getting in the way and annoying the chefs with questions. Oh wait, that was me.
The plates came out in tandem in three waves for each course. In chatting with my fellow guests and watching clean plates go by throughout the evening, the response was unanimously supportive. We were all impressed by the level of care and creativity that went into each course and felt very lucky to have experienced so intimately the working styles of two chefs as well as their most innovative creations and the depth and talent of their staff working hard behind the scenes. The chefs thought deeply and planned their extensive menus with care yet they also took risks. The beauty of an event like this is experiencing that rare intimacy with like-minded gourmands that simply doesn't exist within a traditional restaurant setting.
In one corner stood Fritz Knipschildt, a master of subtleties, whose menu began with a nod to his Danish homeland with a smoked potato soup in the first course, invoked his inimitable sweet style with a cocoa dusted venison for his second course (a dish that got my vote for best course of the evening), and finished with a third course of light pumpkin mousse with a spring roll tuile that left me seeking a second plate of dessert.
First course: A “festival” of fall root vegetables including shaved black radish, served with a potato soup with caramelized onions.
Second course: Cocoa dusted loin of venison, parsnip puree, orange blossom honey pan roasted butternut squash, variation of braised beets-truffled demi glace.
Third course: Pumpkin praline mousse with white chocolate shell, caramel sauce and a candied spring roll as a tuile.
In the other corner was Matt Storch, the king of sauces and new American cuisine, with a first course that left us all smiling – a beet flavored waffle with radish greens and a quail egg (my other favorite dish of the night), matchstick french fries highlighted the second course, and a final course that boasted parnsip whipped cream I’d love to bottle and serve on everything this fall.
First course: “Soup & Sandwich”: Celeryroot & truffle soup-fresh black truffle, apple, celery leaf salad; beet waffle sandwich filled with sunny side quail egg, roasted beets, micro beet greens, truffled crème fraiche.
Second course: “Surf & Turf”: Caramelized diver scallop with salt & pepper pork belly, fennel whipped potatoes, roast fennel-cippolini-melon salsa, banyuls gastrique, crispy potatoes.
Third course: “Luscious Roots”: sweet potato & butternut squash panna cotta with parsnip whipped cream, candied pepitas-nuts, cranberry water, sweet chips.
And the winner is . . .
The popular vote cast by the crowd went to Chef Storch, with the judges deciding vote going to Chef Knipschildt. Knipschildt will face a yet-to-be named challenger (our sources point to another well-known chef outside of the SoNo scene) for the next show down event early in 2011. If the next event is anything like this evening, grab your best foodie friends and get tickets early because you won’t want to miss it.
For more information on events at Clarke, visit www.clarkecorp.com.