What's better than booze with food? Booze and food together in one heavenly bite!
At Sunday’s Brooklyn Booze Experiment, chefs showed up with everything from bourbon sauces and booze-braised meats to Bailey’s whipped creams and beer glazes. As its name suggests, the event was just as much a party as it was a competition among delicious foodie innovations.
When I glanced at the menu and saw “Mexican Coffee Crunkcakewith Mezcal Icing,” “Pork Pops with Rye Whiskey Sauce” and “Guinness Muffins with a Guinness Glaze” among the 22 competing dishes, I knew I was in for a good time. Audience members tasted, drank, and voted (and then tasted and drank some more) while competing cooks stood elbow-to-elbow, doling out their bites and explaining the intricacies of their dishes.
Sunday's event was only the latest in a succession of succulent Food Experiments; previous installments have included the Taco Experiment, the Brunch Experiment and the Chocolate Experiment. The participants are all passionate amateur chefs (many of them serial contestants) who momentarily abandon the banality of their 9-to-5 jobs for a chance at culinary glory.
The Food Experiment masterminds Nick Suarez and Theo Peck, who have struck a rare balance in the foodie world: Their events are unpretentious, yet exhibit seriously impressive and delicious cuisine. The Experiments' broad themes leave plenty of room for creativity as chefs from throughout the five boroughs engage in fork-to-fork combat.
Take Tony Santoro, a middle-aged man with a Hawaiian shirt, thick glasses and a family recipe for Pescado Veracruzano that would make you beg to be adopted into his clan (half chicken broth and half Chardonnay). “This is a far cry from my day job,” he told me. “There are no puppets around here.”
Excuse me... puppets? It turns out Tony works on Sesame Street as a “lighting guy.” I’ll be watching to see if Oscar the Grouch whips up a boozy Pescado Veracruzano in a forthcoming episode.
Next to Tony were Keith Christiansen and David Torres, two middle-school teachers who met while teaching in their Brooklyn neighborhood, Sunset Park. Their team, Sunset Pork, offered a delicious bourbon pernil.
Keith and David have started a cooking club at their school, and it's been incredibly successful. David, a Queens native and child of two Latin American immigrants, worried that the food of his heritage would be replaced by McDonald's and Kit Kat bars, so he often teaches students how to make his favorite Latin dishes. (After cooking with 12-year-olds, it’s no wonder they jumped at the chance to add some alcohol to their cooking!)
In this quirky world of cook-offs, there are the newbies, like Tony and Sunset Pork, and then there are recurring reigning champs: the amateur chefs who repeatedly take home prizes and truly have the skills to ditch their day jobs. One such contestant was Roopa Marcello, a young, attractive, endearingly quirky woman with rare culinary creativity and prowess. Roopa won the Chocolate Experiment with her Thai chile-lime chocolate ice cream in cocoa-ginger-Thai basil cones, and the Holiday Food Experiment with “Frosty's Flipped Fruitcake” which provided sweet revenge for that much-mocked dessert:brandied, candied fruit compote layered between gingerbread five-spice cake, topped with bourbon brown sugar buttercream and maple-candied pecans.
There are two categories of awards: Judges Awards and Audience Awards. The three judges, all professionals in the food and wine industry, choose winners based solely on quality, whereas an audience member can vote for their friend, or a guy they think is cute, or for what they ate when they were hungriest (or booziest), or on any other arbitrary basis. Still, the announcements of Audience Awards tend to be the most exciting moments of the Food Experiments, as spectators wait in anticipation to see if their favorites won. This is democracy at its finest, folks.
(This year, the Audience First Prize Award went to Sabrina Mossberg for her Bourbon braised short rib, topped with crispy roasted kale chips and thin slivers of pickled watermelon rinds.)
There is a science and strategy to winning these cook-offs, and it has to do with creating the perfect single bite. It needs to be balances in texture and taste, and chances are it's heavy on butter and salt (and in this case, booze, too!).
So forget sitting at home and watching the Food Network; I’m all about the Food Experiments -- interactive foodie parties where participants are passionate, diverse, and unconventional, and audience members leave with full stomachs.