My wife has this really cool credit card from Chase called the Chase Preferred Sapphire Gold-Trimmed Special Sparkly Platinum Elite Card. Among other cool perks, it entitles her to get discounted, exclusive and advanced-entry/VIP-type tickets to things that regular people would not normally be able to get (for example, our tickets were cheaper and we were allowed in early at 7pm for this event).
One thing we’ve been privy to in the past was the Top Chef Masters Premiere Party. This season’s re-imagination of the Top Chef brand is called “Duels.” We had a lot of fun last time, and got to meet all the chefs, so grabbing hold of my wife’s perks this time too was a no-brainer. I love my wife’s perks.
Top Chef Duels is set up to be 10 one-on-one battles of the masters, where the chefs actually choose their own challenges for each other, and the dishes are then judged to see who is the winner. Cool concept. I like a good fight!
So they had the place set up with three major battle stations, featuring six of the chefs and the dishes they dueled with. The main station was Marcel Vigneron vs. Richard Blais.
The challenge: Lobster Roll.
The winner according to me: Marcel Vigneron’s “Open Face Knuckle Sandwich”
While I enjoyed Richard’s lobster roll, I felt like the filling itself was too watery, and yet the bread was dry. Go figure. I was really pulling for Richard too, because he was one of my favorite contestants to watch, and he’s a fellow Long Island native. It was still way better than any regular old lobster roll you may find in the northeast, but Marcel’s was just really nicely executed. I think the potato roll was a big plus, and the addition of pickled onion really made all the flavors pop.
We wandered around a bit, taking in some free booze, when we stumbled upon the second battle station. The chefs featured here were Dale Talde, who I met at the Dynasty Project Casino Night event, and Tiffani Faison.
The challenge: Ribs
The winner according to me: Tiffani Faison’s “Spicy Sticky Thai Ribs”
Dale served up some Korean style short ribs, which I absolutely LOVE in general. However, he served them in lettuce cups as if they were de-boned and ready to pop in your mouth without any additional work. I took a bite and came right down on the bone. No worries though. Once I knew what was up, I put the lettuce cup down and used two hands to pull the meat off the bone.
If you have any familiarity with Korean style BBQ short ribs, you’ll know they are a very fatty (and sometimes gristled) cut of rib meat where the bones and meat are cut on the bias, so that you have cross-sections of bone connected to the surrounding meat. Often times you will get two or three circular rib bones per slice of meat. My first exposure to this was with my wife’s family. My wife isn’t Korean (she’s Vietnamese) but the style of BBQ and the actual cross-section cut of rib meat is popular in many Asian cuisines.
So anyway, Dale’s dish had just one bone circle with the surrounding meat attached, so I thought it was boneless when I picked up the lettuce cup, especially since the bone piece had toppings on it and was not readily visible in the dim lighting. In any case it was very tasty, but I think Tiffani nailed it with the layers of delicious sticky sauces she had going on her traditional style rib cuts. She even sprinkled some fried shallots on top to add some crunch and texture. All the familiar Southeast Asian flavors were there. This was a perfect rib in every way.
The last station was Kevin Gillespie vs. Art Smith. I saved this for last because I think the winning dish here was probably the best of the night.
The challenge: Fried Chicken.
The winner according to me: Kevin Gillespie’s “Closed On Sunday” Chicken Sandwich.
One thing I appreciated about Art’s dish was that it was a nice, full piece of fried chicken on the bone, readily identifiable as such, like Tiffani’s rib (and unlike Dale’s). In typical southern style, Art’s dish contained a hint of maple syrup to throw your taste buds back into breakfast mode. It was good! But Kevin’s sangwitch was masterfully created. He was working like a powerhouse all night, didn’t mix and mingle too much. He just kept right on working his station. Amazing. And his passion for cooking shines through his food, because that chicken slider was one of the best poultry-based dishes I’ve ever eaten. People were going up for seconds and thirds. Even Top Chef alumnus CJ Jacobson asked me to run and grab him one while he was stuck in the cattle pen pretending to be interested in talking to, and taking pictures with, obsessed fans. I earned a solid fist bump from that human beanstalk for being his sandwich bitch.
Anyway back to this fucking juicy, delicious sandwich… I mean let’s be honest here: it doesn’t look like much. But the taste… Holy fuck. Look at the list of flavors you’re getting!
Okay so that’s it for the battle food. The passed hors were nice too, but I didn’t shoot pics of them and I don’t remember all the details about them. They weren’t prepared by the chefs (they were catered or made in house). One notable item was the mini-mac – a miniature McDonald’s-esque Big Mac in slider form, donning the special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickle, and even stacked two-high on tiny sesame seed double buns. It was everything you love that’s delicious about the McDonald’s version, except for the ammonia bath and fake-ass, grade-F beef.
And last but not least, here are some other pics from the night, mostly me or my wife with other chefs, and various famous and quasi-famous people from the TV food world. Enjoy!