Don’t you just love it when you stumble upon a Foodie Surprise? That’s what happened on Saturday when Meatlovin’ Man and I were out running errands and saw a tiny sign at the entrance to Walt Whitman mall that simply said “Cadillac Culinary Challenge“. I got very excited, because I remembered reading about this in another blog called Long Island Foodie and thinking that I’d like to go, then promptly forgetting about it. So we parked the car and walked over to check out the event.
One of the things I now realize is that I must never, ever walk out of the house without my camera. Because stuff like this is going to happen – pop up Foodie events – and I won’t be able to take photos (the ones on my camera end up posting small and grainy, if you haven’t noticed). Hence my apologies on no pictures for this posting, but it’s short & sweet.
The Scene: There were about 50 chairs under a pretty, open-aired tent and every single one of them was filled with polite folks interested in learning more about cooking, or Cadillacs, or both. I secretly hoped that the chefs would cook something, then give us samples which we would enjoy as someone drove us around in a Cadillac. Well, at least the first two happened! Behind the stage-tables where the celebrity chefs performed their demonstrations, there was a curtain which hid a team of busy cooks creating a sample of each dish for all of us attendees to taste, and a team of well-appointed staffers ready to hand them out to us.
The Chefs: The chefs featured were Chef Cornelius Gallagher of the Bohlsen Restaurant Group (popular LI haunts such as Prime, H20, Tellers, Verace) and Chef Geoffrey Zakarian (owner of Lambs Club and the now-shuttered Country and Town, also frequent judge on TV for Top Chef & Chopped). Both of them were charming and informative, giving little cooking tips and introducing us to new foodie items. Each created a delightful summer tomato salad for us to try, and to be judged by a panel to see who won the competition.
The Judges: Ugh. Don’t ask me about the judges. There were 3 people sitting in the front row and they were introduced by the charming hostess of the event, but their comments about themselves and the food were so stilted, trite & banal (“I am from NY”, “It was good”, “I liked the cheese”, etc.) that MM & I honestly thought they had been plucked out of the audience just that day to be the “judges”. Apparently they had some sort of credentials as food bloggers, but when we saw them they all looked like teenagers which made sense as to why they weren’t exactly speaking like food experts. Still, 2 of them picked the same winner that I did (one did not even vote?!), so it goes to show you that they must have some taste. I just hope that other cities feature better-qualified, more dynamic judges.
The Dishes: Chef Gallagher created a marinated tomato salad with crispy bread, crescenza cheese and pesto that was the clear winner in this culinary challenge. Chef Zakarian served us heirloom tomatoes with stracciatella (a type of bufala mozz). Both of them introduced me to interesting, delicious ingredients that I haven’t had before or even heard of! Crescenza cheese is a soft and creamy cheese with a mild, salty flavor that almost reminded me of fresh, hot, homemade mozzarella. And Chef Zakarian included basil seeds in his dish – yes, the very seeds you grow basil from, with water added to allow them to “bloom”, and they added a pleasant herby element to the salad. Chef Gallagher’s was my favorite because the crispy bread added a textural, crunchy surprise to the relatively soft tomatoes/onions/cheese/arugula mixture.
Bottom Line: Go! It’s fun, like watching a quick-fire challenge on Top Chef. The Cadillac Culinary Challenge is traveling around the country from now until November, and will feature local chefs from your city. If you missed this year’s event make a note to try it in next year. You’ll learn some neat tips from award-winning chefs, taste some excellent food (good portions too!), get recipes & coupons, and be able to check out the latest that Cadillac is offering in the car department. A class act all around!