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Last Friday night, 26 of Chicago's best chefs and scads of you nice, attractive people (see here) gathered at the Bridgeport Art Center for a little culinary symbiosis in the name of adventure. We called it the Key Ingredient Cook-Off. Basically, it was a live, interactive take on our popular (and award-winning) Key Ingredient series. We challenged chefs to come up with creative and delicious ways to prepare one of five predetermined ingredients: durian, dried shrimp, celery, millet, and Malort.
The resulting dishes were better than we ever could have imagined. The free cocktails and the music weren't bad either.
It wasn't easy (and I'm not just saying that), but a panel of Reader staffers conferred and selected a winning dish for each ingredient, as well as an overall winner who we really thought had outdone himself.
The prizes: A donation is being made in each of the chefs' names to the Healthy Schools Campaign. Also bragging rights.
Without further ado . . .
Celery: Marianne Sundquist, Mess Hall & Co., "Ants on a Log, Cocktail Hour" (frozen celery mousse coated with white chocolate and filled with sherry gelee, served on peanut butter sponge cake)
Malort: Barry Sorkin, Smoque, smoked leg of lamb with Malort-blueberry barbecue sauce and Malort-pickled onions
Durian: Ryan LaRoche, NoMi Kitchen, durian creme brulee with coconut-lime cream
Dried shrimp: Paula Haney and Allison Scott, Hoosier Mama Pie, chawanmushi (steamed egg custard) with dried shrimp, porcini mushrooms, midwestern kimchi, and dried-shrimp kettle corn
Millet: Dale Levitski, Sprout/Frog N Snail, millet cake with strawberry, rhubarb, and foie gras
And overall: Abraham Conlon, Fat Rice, durian, dried shrimp, and Malort "Epoisses," celery-grape salad, millet bread
Conlon was the only chef to use all five ingredients. Honorable mention: John Asbaty of Panozzo's entry used three ingredients, plus tripe (which was his assignment for that week's Key Ingredient challenge). He did a nasturtium wrap with pork, tripe, and bone-marrow sausage; durian mostarda; dried-shrimp aioli; pickled celery; radish; and sprouts. Amazing.
Here's a video of the event. See you all next year?