Thursday, November 16, 2017

Who Brings a Food Blogger to a Knife Fight?

I totally meant to take more photos but, man, I was having so much fun hanging out with my friends and, well, being a judge that my photo duties kind of took a back seat.

So...apologies for the lack of images.

It happens.

High on fire

The Tucson Knife Fight began in September of this year with 16 local chefs competing for a bodacious trophy, $400 cash and total bragging rights. Think of this as a very long episode of Tucson Chopped where each chef brings a secret ingredient to scare off the other while another unknown ingredient is introduced right before the competition. I was lucky enough to be a judge on the 'final 4' slot where two chefs brought the same secret ingredient (duck hearts), which was pretty funny, and the secret secret ingredient was jackfruit, basically a bigger, spikier version of a mango, and totally sticky too. The competition was really close that night but from the ashes of the semi-finals rose two local kitchen heavyweights to make it to the finale:

Gary Hickey of Charro Steak and Tim Marshall from The Parish.

Oh can cut the tension with a knife.

Huh. I just saw what I did there...

The view from the judges table

Just like the final four the finale was held in the back patio at Martin Drug Co. on Congress. It's really a great space but unlike last time, this event was definitely bigger.

First thing I noticed were all of the flashy DJ lights and lasers and such. Looked like a rock concert or rave rather than a cook off. Plus there was a large screen projecting the action live on the side wall. Very cool. The stage was decidedly higher too putting contestants well above normal head level. They were going all out with this one. I was really impressed.

Not to mention the place was packed, like wall to wall people. So far this was going to be a night to remember...

Chef Mike holding the esteemed trophy

To start things off there was a cocktail competition, ironically enough, between bartenders from The Parish and Charro Steak. While this was going on folks continued to stream in as the two competing chefs began prepping for their big moment. It was at this time that I walked up to the stage to take a place at the judges table.

I was joined by Adam Lehrman from Tucson Foodie, Kate Selby of Edible Baja and, once again, Ben Caballero, executive chef for HUB, which Martin Drug Co. is a part of, whom I judged alongside with for the Final 4.

We were way up there and I kept having to make sure that I didn't slip and careen down the metal stairs because, honestly, we were all drinking and I didn't want to look like a total amateur chump in front of a full house.

But, as doing events such as this before, I began to feel cool so maybe taking a head plunge down would calm my ego just a tad.

Although I'm glad I didn't tumble. We were really high up and those stairs looked sharp.

Chef Gary in full action

Before we knew it the competition was underway. The unfortunate secret ingredient was taro root, which is a root vegetable and kind of tough to deal with. Another culinary monkey wrench was the use of Pate a Choux which is a fluffy dough usually used to make eclairs or beignets.

This is going to be tricky.

Huge cut of meat, cooked perfectly

With all of the lights flashing and host Matt Russell of On The Menu, Live! talking in his usual fast candor, when dishes started to arrive on the table I kind of couldn't hear, or see, what was in them (obviously taro root and Pate a Choux) although I do recall a gnocchi dish where the Pate a Choux stood in for the usual potato. The Pate a Choux was really soft but the sauce and other components were very tasty. I thought the dish worked fairly well.

For me, when I judge, its usually very close as far as scoring is concerned. Unless, of course, something blows my mind or something really sucks. Not going to give anything away but when I did the Margarita Competition there was one drink that was so foul that I gave it my first 1 out of 10. Ugh. It was gross and served warm. C'mon now.

Here though, my scoring was pretty darn close. That is until Gary Hickey brought out this pho platter that totally won me over. It was stunning. In the short amount of time that he had Gary pulled out one of the most flavorful dishes I have ever had in a culinary competition. Tim did great with a huge steak but the taro root was a bit buried. That was my only complaint.

After three or four dishes each we all had our fill, we tallied the votes and one winner was announced.

Who would it be?

This is going to be a close one.

Gnocchi out of Pate a Choux dough? Awesome!

And the winner was...

Gary Hickey of Charro Steak!

Tim gave a great performance and delivered delicious delights but Gary took the grand prize. That pho dish though. Ugh. So good.

Everything, all of good.

Thanks again for letting me judge yet another amazing culinary competition and, hey!, keep 'em coming. If you need a food dork like me on your panel I am that guy.

Looking forward to the next big competition.

Bring it on!


And the winner is...

Eating, Drinking & Judging
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
Why is it still hot's November!, 2017

Metal Influence:


  1. The event looked competetive as the photos show. Congrats to the lucky winner. I like this blog and looking forward to future posts.

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