Monday, July 25, 2011

Event Recap: Cadillac Culinary Challenge - Chef Jonathan Waxman vs. Chef Jason Santos

This weekend I had my first (and hopefully not last!) opportunity to judge a food event. Eating food is, of course, fun enough - but a little friendly competition between chefs certainly adds some excitement. The event was the Dedham, MA stop of Cadillac's Culinary Challenge Tour. I'm not sure if there's really a relevant connection between Cadillacs and food, but hey, we got to eat some tasty stuff, chat with a couple chefs, judge said chefs, and test drive a couple nice cars, so - not a bad day! (Joel did the test driving; I actually haven't driven in two or three years. To be honest, I can't even come close to naming the cars we tried out. I know nothing about cars.)

After working up quite an appetite on the road, Joel and I prepared to be the tasting panel, along with Alex from Greater Boston Gala Girls. The chefs - Jason Santos of Blue Inc. here in Boston (and formerly on Hell's Kitchen and at Gargoyles on the Square) and Jonathan Waxman of Barbuto in New York - began preparing dishes that both contained the challenge ingredient, summer squash. Host Mary Nolan (from the Food Network) asked the chefs questions as they cooked and traded a few playful barbs with each other.

Chef Santos' dish was pretty much a basic Greek salad with lamb (and he claimed he'd never made it before). The lamb was cooked perfectly, and I was surprised to find that I enjoyed the topping, a black olive yogurt. Typically I dislike olives.

Chef Waxman made a squash ragout with merguez sausage. The flavors melded together beautifully, but the dish was rather oily.

It was a tough decision, but in the end, I was the minority vote for Santos while Alex and Joel preferred Waxman. The audience, however, gave the popular vote to Santos.

It was a pleasure to watch such talented chefs up close and learn a bit from their techniques. Waxman definitely seemed more at ease engaging with the audience, but after the competition, both chefs were kind enough to chat with us for a bit. Joel has a co-worker who hunts and gave us some goose breast, so we asked each chef for some pointers on how to cook it, and they both obliged. Stay tuned - we'll be eating it soon, and I'll surely blog about it.

The Recipes

Grilled Lamb with Greek-Style Summer Squash & Tomato Salad Served with Black Olive Yogurt
Chef Jason Santos, Blue Inc., Boston


For the salad:
  • Four 4 oz lamb loins
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 summer squash (medium diced)
  • 6 cups assorted tomatoes, cut into wedges
  • 1/2 cucumber, seeded and sliced
  • 1/2 cup pepperoncini, sliced
  • 1 small red onion, julienned
  • 1 cup crumbled feta
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tbsp dried oregano
For the yogurt:
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp black olive puree
  • Salt and pepper


For the salad:
  1. Season lamb with salt and pepper and pan sear/grill until medium rare.
  2. Combine remaining ingredients and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Slice lamb and serve over salad.
  4. Top with black olive yogurt. 

For the yogurt:
  1. Toast garlic in olive oil.
  2. Mix the toasted garlic with the yogurt, lemon juice, and black olive puree.
  3. Season with salt and pepper.

Squash Ragout with Spicy Merguez, Eggplant, Tomato, 
Zucchini, Onions, Peppers, and Gruyere Cheese
Chef Jonathan Waxman, Barbuto, New York


For the ragout:
  • 1/4 cup good extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb fresh merguez sausage
  • 1 head of fresh garlic
  • 1 lb baby eggplant
  • 1 lb baby zucchini
  • 2 sweet onions
  • 2 bell peppers
  • 1 lb heirloom beefsteak tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup grated Gruyere
  • 1/4 cup pesto (see below)
For the pesto: 
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 4 cups fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 1/2 cups olive oil


For the ragout:
  1. Dice sausage.
  2. Peel garlic and mince 3 cloves; leave 6 whole without skin.
  3. Dice eggplant and zucchini.
  4. Peel and dice onions.
  5. Chop bell peppers.
  6. Dice tomatoes.
  7. In a large skillet, saute the sausage with garlic in olive oil. When brown, remove and add the eggplant. When that's brown, remove and add the zucchini, onions, and peppers. When they are brown, add back the eggplant and sausage.
  8. Toss with pesto and tomatoes and add the cheese. Serve hot!
For the pesto:
  1. In a food processor, combine the garlic, pine nuts, basil, and Parmesan. 
  2. Blend, then drizzle in olive oil to desired thickness.
The Tour is continuing through several more cities. For more information, check out the Twitter and Facebook pages.

This event was free and open to the public. My participation as a judge was not monetarily compensated; I received the same food samples as all attendees. By participating, I was under no obligation to write about the event.  All opinions expressed are my own.

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