Posted by Jason Sheehan on April 5th, 2012
Foobooz Open Stove Night
Last night, we held our first official Foobooz Open Stove Night battle at Cook and it was a killer: Packed house, noble competitors doing glorious combat, special guest judges, surprise plot twists. It had everything anyone could ask for in a serious cooking competition, including enough booze to float a battleship and more ramen than you could shake a stick at.
In keeping with the rules, our two challengers were working guys–sub-chef-level pros willing to step up and face off in full view of the paying public. We had Jim Kenngott, sous chef from La Calaca Feliz and Aaron Gottesman, currently taking a turn through the kitchen at Sbraga, soon to be on the opening line at Jen Carroll’s Concrete Blonde. Both guys knew they were cooking ramen. Both were instructed to bring an appropriate appetizer and a dessert.
But that, in a nutshell, was all they knew.
Here are some things they didn’t know:
- That we were not providing them with any sort of broth (that they were going to have to make themselves–in 45 minutes, for about 20 people)
- That they wouldn’t know what any of their ingredients or proteins were going to be until they chose between two Secret Baskets Of Mystery.
- That there were going to be Special Guest Judges or that said judges were going to be Ben Puchowitz and Shawn Darragh from
Roundeye Noodle BarCheu Noodle Bar.
- And that when it came time to see their noodles, they were going to be working with only the finest product from the Maruchan Ramen factory. Yes, the stuff you haven’t eaten since college. We thought this little twist was hi-larious.
The cooks had a slightly different opinion.
But still, these guys were professionals. They knew they had to feed 20-odd people and that they had only a limited time in which to do it, so both set about making the best of their strange circumstances.
Jim drew the basket containing shrimp and all that was necessary (namely dried sardines and kombu) for the construction of a delicious niboshi dashi–most of which he completely ignored. Aaron got the pork basket, containing everything he needed for making a nice shiitake dashi, and he went crazy instead, throwing a little bit of everything into the pot and boiling the hell out of it for every minute he had available (and then a few extra minutes as well).
The cooks cooked. Art and I acted as rally men for our chosen sides. I tried my best to steer the crowd’s opinion with free shots of tequila and deprecating comments made about the other side’s cooking skills, parentage and personal hygiene. But in the end, it was all for naught. Jim wowed the assembled throngs with both his appetizer (sashimi-style fish tacos in malanga root shells) and his dessert (orange creamsicle ice cream with a sesame seed cake and a slice of candied orange), then finally threw down a beautiful head-on shrimp ramen with kombu that, in addition to being delicious, was also delivered on time–something that Aaron had a little trouble with as the clock ticked down to zero.
Still, Aaron had done a beautiful app of raw scallops, finished with ice cream and a black pepper tuille and presented a sliced pork ramen with egg, fresh spinach, pickled mushrooms and chiles that won over a large part of the room. He ended up only losing by 5 points (out of a possible 80) AND was the only guy to walk out with phone numbers from ladies in the crowd that he’d impressed.
Not just one number either. My boy got two.
So finally, after hours of prepping and cooking and playing to the crowds, it was Jim Kenngott who won the first Foobooz Open Stove Night competition. He got the honor. He got the glory. He got the victory. Now and forever after, he will be known in the halls of Foobooz World Headquarters as our First Champion.
And next month, we’re going to be doing it all again. And since I already know what all the surprises and challenges are going to be for our next set of cooks, I can confidently tell you that this will be a night you don’t want to miss.
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