I have now seen firsthand what it would be like to watch a taping of “Iron Chef America,” as San Francisco chefs Chris Cosentino and Elizabeth Falkner took on chefs Russell Jackson and Dominique Crenn in the Illy Chef Challenge, one of many events and demos at this past weekend’s SF Chefs 2011.
The event featured the teams sharing one kitchen to prepare the best four dishes possible in an hour with the “secret ingredient.” But with illy as one of the event’s sponsors, both teams knew going in that that ingredient was likely to be coffee, which it was.
Four judges (Margo True from Sunset Magazine, Miriam Morgan from the San Francisco Chronicle, Fran Carpentier from Parade and Christopher Mariani from Esquire) and two lucky Chase Sapphire Visa Signature cardmembers got a chance to taste the best of what each chef had to offer.
The “battle” was intense as each team scrambled to complete the dishes within the time limit. Each chef wore a mic, which was great because you could hear the conversations they were having with each other as things were coming together and also the playful jabs they took at one another. Event host Liam Mayclem from CBS5’s “Eye on the Bay” and the KCBS Foodie Chap also talked to the chefs throughout, asking them about their thought process throughout the hour. He also took questions from the audience.
Team Jackson/Crenn’s four dishes including a foie gras, a caviar, squab and lamb, along with Russell Jackson’s famed Batiste cocktail. Team Cosentino/Falkner prepared a coffee-based pasta, a porcini and iberico pork, Cosentino’s unique take on breakfast featuring a poached egg, potatoes and celery and Falkner’s ice cream sundae. In the end, the judges had a tough decision and plenty of great food to taste. But the victors were Team Cosentino and Falkner.
“We’ve known each other so long, we’ve cooked together, we’ve gone on trips together, we’ve eaten out together,” said Cosentino. “We’re fortunate here in the Bay Area that the camaraderie between chefs is so great.” Falkner agreed and said communication was key throughout. “Competitive cooking is like a sport. We communicated a lot. We wanted to be able to talk the whole time while we were cooking, which is one of the essential ingredients (to this type of competition),” she said. “We were able to come up with something cohesive and help each other out.”
Chef Crenn said that she enjoyed the experience and although she would have liked to win, she was happy with the dishes she and Jackson prepared. “I think we did great. It’s not always about winning or losing. We wanted to have fun and create unique dishes,” she said “Sometimes people like them and sometimes they don’t. But the important part is that we raised money for our charity.” Chef Jackson, the lone participant who has not been on one of the made-for-TV cooking competitions (Iron Chef/Top Chef), said he had a blast as well. “But the best part was talking to some of the young kids who are looking to become chefs,” he said. “Just seeing their eyes light up puts a smile on your face.”
Chase Sapphire and Visa Signature donated $20,000 to the winning team’s charity. Cosentino and Falkner selected Meals on Wheels of San Francisco, which delivers meals to homebound seniors. The companies also donated $5,000 to the chosen charity of Jackson and Crenn, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association Scholarship Foundation.