On August 21st at the Standards of Excellence showroom the Food Pundits group got together for the first time to attend a Sunday Night Chef Fight hosted by Chris Kern of Forgotten Grapes. Jen and I have attended one of these events in the past and were excited to see what chef Nicola Bellazzi of Enne Cucina Italiana was going to bring to the challenge because he beat out the former champion chef Lindsay Smith-Rosales of Nirvana Grille in Mission Viejo and Laguna Beach who was the crowned champion when Jen and I attended back in February. So the nights challenge this night was between chef Bellazzi and chef James Harris of the Royal Hawaiian in Laguna Beach and what a fun night it was!
First of all let me start by pointing out that the three random ingredients were shrimp, mushrooms and brown bread with the mystery ingredient being cinnamon. Each chef was given 35 minutes to cook and serve their dishes. They are allowed to create as many dishes as they’d like so long as they incorporate one or more of the ingredients into a single dish and they had to find a way to create dishes using each of the ingredients. One of our Food Pundits was allergic to shrimp and another one didn’t like shrimp or mushroom but was a champ and came out anyways and ended up enjoying herself immensely. Both competing chefs were kind enough to come up with a few alternatives for the person who was allergic to it and even she went home with a full belly.
Chef James Harris – Royal Hawaiian
James is a young successful chef who came to the challenge as the underdog and walked away with the trophy. A couple of the single Food Pundit ladies said it was because he was young, attractive and could cook while a few others said that he won it with the first dish he served which was a cinnamon infused mai tai but in truth I’ll venture a guess and say he won because each dish was creative and unique from one another and he also engaged with the audience a lot more. Here’s what chef James Harris ended up preparing for us:
Cinnamon Spiced Rum
(Three wine tastings during the event AND this… yeah we had a good night!)
Wild Mushroom Bruschetta
Chanterelle, Oyster, Maitake Mushrooms, Thyme & Pecorino
(Jen is a sucker for bruschetta so this was easily her favorite dish of the entire night.)
New Caledonian Blue Prawns
Togarashi Rub, Pickled Veggie Ponzu Sauce
(My favorite dish from chef James and not only because he gave me seconds after the challenge. He also educated us that overcooking these results in them being mush which was kind of neat that he knew that and shared that.)
Cinnamon Scented Wheat & Mango Bread Pudding
(Anyone who knows me will tell you I do not like bread pudding type desserts of any type. I decided though that I’d try this dish and then found myself finishing all of it… maybe a new love affair with bread pudding is heading my way?)
Nicola made a shrimp soup that I and many of the other Food Pundits really enjoyed. The dish itself was the highlight of his dishes in my opinion and even a week and a half later I wish I had more of it right now. Chef Nicola created a menu where each dish had as many if not all of the required ingredients in them and in some ways this worked and other ways I think it resulted in him losing the championship trophy. Either way though, many of the Food Pundits I spoke with after the challenge said they scored highly for him in the creativity section because of his creative menu. Here is what chef Nicola Bellazzi ended up preparing for us:
Tramezzino Caramella (candy)
All wheat bread snack sandwich with portobella mushroom, shrimp, both oven baked and marinated in garlic and olive oil, with brandy cinnamon mayonnaise spread.
(I’ve since seen one more sandwich like item like this. I loved the fullness and fresh taste this “candy” had and thought it was a great introduction dish.)
Vellutata Di Gamberi
Velvety cream of shrimp soup with dark sweet bread croutons, beach mushroom and sprinkled with cinnamon
(My favorite dish from him. We all agreed we wanted more and the beach mushrooms sitting in the soup was a nice touch.)
Baked cremini mushroom stuffed with a mix of bay shrimp, cinnamon and whole grain bread crumbs, topped with tiger shrimp
(I’m a sucker for stuffed mushrooms so I really enjoyed this dish as well. The shrimp was cooked like what you’d expect it to be and was tasty but nothing to memorable)
Fusilli Con Le Polpettine
Corkscrew pasta with bay shrimp, shitake mushroom, cinnamon and brown bread crumbs mini balls, in a fresh tomato sauce
(The meat… “shrimp balls” were more bread crumbs than shrimp balls and over all we questioned if he had used the same stuffing he used for the stuffed mushroom for the meatballs. We were also really expecting something more than a simple pasta dish with fresh tomato sauce. Good but not to par with what we were expecting.)
Tiramisu Di Pane E Cannella
Classic tiramisu made with dark sweet bread, soaked in cinnamon espresso and covered with mascarpone cream and cocoa powder.
( I personally couldn’t finish this dish, going back to my dislike of bread puddings and such this kind of dish falls into that category and its texture and strong expresso flavor was a turn off for me; I did give it a try though! I did see that others enjoyed it though so while not my favorite, it must have been a win for others.)
The chef fight was an amazing challenge for these two chefs with the ingredients and even malfunctioning ovens during the event. They both pulled off some great dishes and I really do hope that we will eventually see chef Nicola Bellazzi back at a later date as a challenger. In the meantime though, enjoy some of the photos taken through out the event and next time consider a night out at one of the next Sunday Night Chef Fights!