Last night was the Second Annual Hop Chef competition in Philadelphia, hosted by Ommegang, where six local chefs go head to head creating dishes that incorporate and pair with various beers from the brewery. Competitions are held in various cities, with the winners from each city being granted the opportunity to compete at the brewery’s annual Belgium Comes to Cooperstown beerfest. (Last year, Philly’s own George Sabatino took home the crown!) This year’s competitors were Mike Deganis of Alla Spina, Lucio Palazzo from La Calaca Feliz, Nick Macri of Southwark, Pat Szoke from The Industry, Eli Kulp of Fork and Yun Fuentes from JG Domestic.
Look at all those handsome dudes!
So let’s take a look at the dishes:
The first one I tried was Yun Fuentes’ dish: A duck arepa with duck confit, jamon, a cherry-fig marmalade and a glaze incorporating the beer, Rare Vos – which was pairing for the dish. I thought the duck was succulent, and the marmalade gave it just the right amount of sweetness. The Rare Vos glaze definitely brought everything together as well; it was definitely the most balanced dish I had all night. (I liked this dish so much, I snuck seconds!)
Next up, Mike from Alla Spina’s BPA braised lamb neck with fava bean, mint fregola (a tiny round Italian pasta similar to couscous), topped with a BPA vinaigrette. While I did enjoy the lamb, the fava beans and pasta didn’t really add anything special to the dish (but it sure looked nice on the plate!)
Third was a Foie Gras hot dog, topped with kimchee relish & Abbey Ale mustard on an Abbey Ale potato roll, paired with an Abbey Ale pretzel topped with Cracker Jack & mustard powder and a potato wedge seasoned with Old Bay – “Crab Fries” style – from Eli Kulp of Fork. Having just been to Fork on Saturday, I thought this dish was quite a contrast to the upscale items on the restaurant’s menu (but that’s part of the challenge when having to incorporate beer and have it pair well with the beer as well, right?). I really enjoyed the Foie dog, but the solo potato wedge just seemed like it was just thrown in and didn’t complement anything else on the plate. I got that it was supposed to be a ballpark tribute since Cooperstown is where the Baseball Hall of Fame is, but maybe sometimes less is more.
Nick “Meat Man” Macri of Southwark cooked up a dish of Hennepin cured coppa, pickled chilies, “Ballpark” nuts with grains of Paradise bread crumbs and an orange & coriander sauce. Because you can’t win friends with salad, but you can win friends with a meat salad!
Pat Szoke of The Industry created a “slider” of Three Philosophers braised beef short ribs with pickled long hots and a Three Philosophers cheddar sauce. I thought this was the worst dish at the event. I think the cheddar sauce completely drowned out the flavor of the short ribs ( it was just kind of slathered on top). It just seemed very sloppy and I thought that a better job could have been done given the quality of the food at the restaurant itself (I mean, they have buffalo sweetbreads on their menu, for crying out loud!)
Lastly was a lamb barbacoa taco on a hominy tortilla topped with watercress, radishes and a Witte consommé, made by Lucio Palazzo of La Calaca Feliz. Again, this is another one of those dishes where I felt there was a lot of reaching going on. I wasn’t sure how the consommé was supposed to work with the taco (because honestly, who is eating consommé with a taco?) And I get that tacos are pretty easy to make and for people to eat when they have to walk around a giant room sampling a bunch of other finger foods, but seeing as the taco was the main part of the dish and it didn’t even incorporate the beer, that was kind of disappointing. (I was also disappointed because this was the only dish that I had to wait on line for a long time for and I wish I hadn’t.)
So, drumroll please…. The People’s Choice winner was Yun Fuentes of JG Domestic and the Judges’ pick was Nick Macri of Southwark! Overall, I had a great time at the event and can’t wait to check it out again next year!