Thursday, February 23, 2012

PhillyCooks 2012: Cooking for Charity and Competition

The annual Philly Cooks Chef Competition was held at the 33rd Street Armory in West Philadelphia last night, kicking off a season of large-scale food events held for charity (look ahead to Brewer’s Plate and Taste of the Nation). Hosted by Philadelphia Magazine and Foobooz, the site founded by Art Etchells that was purchased by the mag, Philly Cooks gathers local chefs and restaurants to spar in a friendly cook-off for Dish of the Year, Best Appetizer, Entree, and Dessert. A portion of the proceeds benefits the Ronald McDonald House, which provides a home away from home for families of children with life-threatening illnesses receiving care at local Philadelphia hospitals. Sponsors included Mercedes-Benz and RBC Wealth Management, which setup luxe lounges in the immense space where a central bar served wine from Southern Wine & Spirits (Clos du Bois Chardonnay, Estancia Pinot Noir, Robert Mondavi Meritage, and Franciscan Cabernet Sauvignon) and Stella Artois lager. Weather personalities Adam Joseph and Melissa Magee from local ABC affiliate WPVI filmed various segments and posed for pictures with attendees. Representatives from Drexel University’s Hospitality, Culinary & Food Science Program were on-hand to assist participating restaurants, while those from Acqua Panna and San Pellegrino served still and sparkling water. Gloss PR handled public relations and event planning while 95.7 FM entertained party-goers with tunes. The seemingly sleepless and ever-friendly HughE Dillon of PhillyChitChat snapped photos.

While charity was a central purpose to the event, food ruled the minds and mouths of ticket buyers, who debated their personal favorites in each category. By 7 PM, the space hummed with chatter and music, while judges evaluated over thirty entries to determine winners. Judges included Art Etchells, KYW News Reporter Hadas Kuznits, City Paper’s Food Editor Drew Lazor, and COOK’s Director of Development Jackie Baik. At 8:30PM, Philly Mag’s Publisher Marian Conicella announced the winners. The final tally:

Best Appetizer: Jason Cichonski of Ela
Whipped Robiola Bosina with shortbread, preserved kumquat, and smoked wild mushrooms

Best Entree: John Strain of Valanni
Pan-seared magret duck breast w/cocoa coffee glaze, over mashed sweet potato

Best Dessert: Stefanie Kitchener of Ciao Bella Cakes
Lemon butter cake filled with ginger-infused bittersweet chocolate, rum syrup, and Hawaiian red salt

Dish of the Year: Chris Calhoun of The Hunt Room at the Desmond Hotel
Poached Pacific halibut filet with saffron aioli, served atop tomato-orange braised Lacinato kale, with pommes allumettes

Here were my personal winners of the evening:

Foie gras and butternut squash mousse on crostini - Stateside

Tuna tartare with pickled fennel and truffle vinaigrette - Dettera Restaurant & Wine Bar

Montchevre goat cheese, flaky onion seed bread, and pineapple raisin chutney - Tashan

Whipped Robiola Bosina with shortbread, preserved kumquat, and smoked wild mushrooms - Ela

Corned Beef Special - Schlesinger’s Deli

Short Rib Ragu with shaved locatelli - Mercato

Crispy Lola duck with quail egg, apple butter, fresh horseradish - Paramour

Pan-seared scallop, apple gastrique, fennel puree - Harvest Seasonal Grill & Wine Bar

Captain Crunch ice cream - Sampan

Espresso & Coffee - Afficionado Roasters