What happens at Culinary Fight Club…is shared among fans watching regional chefs battle it out for top honors. We took in our first Culinary Fight Club challenge and it was a duel to the end. Three points separated champion from third place.
Culinary Fight Club is a fundraiser for Fight 2 Feed, an organization that seeks to stamp out hunger across the United States. The Chicago-based Culinary Fight Club hosts similar challenges in almost 20 cities in the US and Canada. Omaha will be the site of three challenges. The first featured a pork challenge during the spring. The next event is in December.
The challenge at Dudley’s Pizza in Aksarben Village matched three teams featuring chefs from Omaha, Norfolk, Neb., and Sioux City, Iowa. The teams grilled and smoked turkey and pork cushion while fans watched and salivated in anticipation of tasting the food.
Jerad Rodgers owns Uncle Jarrol’s Pub-B-Que in Norfolk. The northeast Nebraskan has competed in pitmaster challenges for about three years. He opened his restaurant about 11/2 years ago.
Nick Gunn is the owner and chef at McCarthy and Bailey’s Irish Pub in Sioux City. He has worked in the restaurant business for several years. Chef Nick participated in the first Culinary Fight Club event in Omaha earlier this year, finishing second.
The third chef team consisted of chefs from Omaha-based DJ’s Dugout. The company has five locations in the area. Chef Tony works at the Miracle Hills location in northwest Omaha. Chef Justin cooks at the Bellevue location.
The Pitmaster challenge detoured from CFC’s normal routine in that the chefs had two hours to grill and smoke the meat. Usually, chefs receive one hour to create their masterpieces. Once ready, a three-judge panel tastes the dishes and make their decisions. Along the way, as fans sample the food, they, too, get a word on who is the best chef.
Culinary Fight Club is a social event. Sponsors, such as Reinhart Food Service, hosts clients. Others can buy tickets to attend the event. Regardless, it’s one big party while the chefs do their thing.
The challenge begins with a race at the pantry. Food and cooking supplies are located on a long table. Each team has 45 seconds to grab everything they can use to prepare their dishes. Personally, I think that’s too much time. I’d like to see it cut to 30 seconds. However, I’m not a chef nor do I play one on TV.
With supplies and food items in hand…and aprons…and pockets…basically, anywhere they could stash the stuff, off the chefs went. The 2-hour countdown was set and it was grillin’ time. Unlike what you see on TV cooking challenge shows, these guys took their time and never seemed rushed. Of course, that could be because I wasn’t one of the chefs and didn’t really see how they felt.
The teams – each chef’s team had three people – worked at slicing and dicing up fruits and vegetables after throwing the meat on the grill. As the chefs sliced the meat, I must have been hungry because the raw pieces of pork were looking very tempting. The meat, marinated with secret sauces and such, smelled amazing as it cooked.
As the clock ticked down to zero, the chefs prepared their dishes for the judges. The panel consisted of representatives from Yelp, Omaha Culinary Tours and the Greater Omaha Barbecue Society. Judges had positive things to say about each dish they sampled.
The emcee – or Cheferee, as he was known – first announced the winner of the fans’ voting. Chef Jerad was the people’s favorite. His turkey was flavorful. We attended the event with Gretchen and Kyle Garrison of Lincoln (she writes Odyssey through Nebraska). We all agreed that Chef Jerad’s turkey had a special flavor. Lisa liked that it wasn’t dry, as can happen when grilling turkey. I also liked their corn salad side dish. The chef won a cooker as a prize.
So, when it came time to announce the judges’ choice, Jerad was announced as second. So, who would win Culinary Fight Club Pitmaster challenge? Remember, only three points separated first from third. The winner and champion was…Chef Nick. Not only did he win a new smoker for being champion, Chef Nick also advances to a national cooking challenge. His dish featured a superbly-made cornbread square in the middle of a bowl, in a sweet sauce that featured berries. The meat was diced up and placed around the bread.
It was a tough loss for the DJ’s Dugout team. However, they were great challengers. Their dish included an excellent-looking sandwich featuring the turkey. The pork was served as a separate item on the plate. Each judge’s plate had corn on the cob and pineapple spears. Honestly, I would have had a difficult time choosing the winner.
While Chef Nick came away the winner, all three teams performed in an outstanding manner. We enjoyed the event and look forward to the next Culinary Fight Club event in December. We recommend checking out a Culinary Fight Club challenge near you.
Disclaimer: Thanks to Culinary Fight Club for the complimentary tickets. However, all views and opinions are ours.