Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Chef Showdown!

It's only been a week since I last blogged, and I am already four posts behind (six posts if you break our weekend trip to Houston into the three posts it deserves). How is this possible? It can't be that I just keep eating...could it?

At any rate...thanks to my generous friend, Jennie Chen, I had the opportunity to attend the awesome Chef Showdown at the Hyatt Austin last Wednesday. This event pitted chefs from three great Austin restaurants - the Driskill Grill, TRIO at the Four Seasons, and the Hyatt's own Southwest Bistro - against one another in an Iron Chef-style showdown. The chefs were given their pick of a myriad of locally-grown ingredients and asked to prepare an appetizer and an entrée for the event.

The lighting at Southwest Bistro, where the event was held, was a little dim, so these pics - which, like most of my blog photos, were taken using my ultracompact point-and-shoot with state-of-the-art lighting courtesy of MyLite for the iPhone - are a little on the sad side. For MUCH better versions, I highly recommend that you check out the event photos posted by John Knox, who could handily out-shoot me in his sleep.

The contestants:

Chef de Cuisine Stephen Bonin (left) and Executive Chef Jonathan Gelman (right) of the Driskill Grill.

Their food:

Sous Vide Eggyolk with Jalapeno Shrimp Noodle, cilantro sorbet, brown butter powder, and local greens with mustard and smoked paprika.

This dish was really interesting to eat. I loved the texture of the yolk, which managed to be both super soft, yet not at all runny, thanks to the sous vide preparation. And I LOVED the barely sweet sorbet with just a whisper of subtle cilantro flavor. Wonderful.

Pan Roasted Snapper with roasted tomato vinaigrette, sweet cilantro, sautéed okra, lemon agar, and grilled corn foam. Garnished with a pasta puff.

Like the appetizers, the details of this preparation were very original. The lemon agar added the twist of interest that it needed. And the pasta puff - which was created by deconstructing pasta, dehydrating it, then somehow rehydrating it (don't ask me how this works), added a lovely, salty crunch.

Chef Kevin Dee of Southwest Bistro and...somebody else whose name I did not get. Sorry, whoever you are (if anyone knows this person's name, please let me know).

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with goat cheese mousse, pecan arugula pesto, and bacon lardonnes.

The addition of the pesto took butternut squash soup (which I already think is delicious) to a whole new level. I want a vat of this sitting next to me all winter. Or maybe I want to be sitting IN a vat of this. Something like that.

Elderberry-Braised Lamb Shanks with Pure Luck Hopelessly Bleu grits and persimmon chutney.

Four words for this dish: Melt. In. Your. Mouth. All of it. The lamb. The grits. No teeth required.

Chef Todd Duplechan, Chef de Cuisine for TRIO (who was trying to serve me my entrée and instead ended up gamely posing for this photo.

Shrimp Ceviche with compressed cucumbers, pepitas, and persimmons.

It's ceviche. How can you go wrong?

Poached Shrimp with smoked shrimp croquettes, corn puree, and market vegetable slaw.

What was super cool about this dish is that it was created to be reminiscent of corndogs at the Texas State Fair. It would not have occurred to me that shrimp croquettes and corn puree could taste so much like a corndog with yellow mustard, but Chef Todd nailed this one. This does sort of beg the question of why you might ever want shrimp to taste like a corndog, but I was nevertheless very impressed with the likeness. And I also ate the whole thing.

The winners:
People's Choice:
Kevin Dee from Southwest Bistro (both appetizer and entrée)
Judges' Pick: Todd Duplechan from TRIO

Needless to say, the real winners were the guests who got to eat all the outstanding food made by these three terrific chefs. Bravo, I say. Bravo.


  1. Thanks for writing up this great event and including TRIO at Four Seasons!

    And I think you're wrong about your photos...love the one of the Shrimp Ceviche and if we regularly featured the item in TRIO I'd consider buying it from you!

    Kerri Holden, PR Director
    Four Seasons Hotel Austin

  2. Hopelessly Bleu grits. Get out! Sounds marvelous

  3. "no teeth required"... love it!

    Seriously though. I need to stop reading your blog in the morning before breakfast. It makes my oatmeal seem so... blah.

  4. I'm so hungry... And this isn't helping :) Thanks for your awesome reviews!

  5. As one of the judges at this event, I wholeheartedly concur with Michelle's descriptions. The food was marvelous, the staff's were excellent, and the Hyatt did a tremendous job hosting. It was so hard to select favorites amongst so many great dishes!


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