Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The 2014 Cooking Matters "Chopped" Challenge

Over the weekend I had the privilege of being able to attend the "Chopped" Challenge held by Cooking Matters Maine.  Cooking Matters is a program held by the Good Shepard Food Bank and Share Our Strength (which you might know as that program connected to Food Network).  Many restaurants and food stores local to the Portland area were present with samples of their wares, cocktails were five dollars each, and you got to see four great chefs battle it out in a miniature version of one of the most popular shows on Food Network.

Pictured: Karl Deuben, from Small Axe Truck, Jason Williams, from The Well at Jordan's Farm,
Shannon Bard, from Zapoteca, and Chris Gould, from Central Provisions.

The event was hosted at Grace, a Gothic-style church dating back to the civil war that is now converted over to a restaurant.  It was my first time in there, and I was surprised at how well designed the place is for serving food.

While a bit loud on the inside due to so many people talking and visiting (it was a giant social event and fundraiser, of course), I was able to make the rounds and try food and talk to a few people from different restaurants.  I got to watch the chefs compete, though I really appreciate now the advantage of a camera doing all the hard work getting in with the chef and being able to see things up close.



They brought in a special celebrity judge, The Chew correspondent Chef Jason Roberts.  The event was educational in a lot of ways.  One thing I found was that while I might still have doubts about the state as a whole, the food scene in Portland is certainly alive and well.  I had some absolutely delicious food (as well as some just "okay" food) sampled, from having a raclette provided by Whole Foods (picture a wheel of cheese slowly melted and spread over bread), a classed-up corn dog, to quite possibly the best bite of the night, a steamed bun.

However, there was also food that wasn't so great.  Some truffle popcorn was overpowering (and apparently I wasn't the only one to think so based on how much the restaurant had left at the end), and pizza from Otto's, a place I heard people speak very highly of, was cold and rather bland.

Just an example of one of the delicious bites I had.  Well, not that one in particular, but another one just like it.

However, I also learned how tough it is to host an event.  The microphone work needed help, as it was impossible to hear the show unless you stood near the speakers, but one or two people would speak really loudly, causing you to be deafened every time they talked.  Seating was difficult to get, because apparently it's okay to just drape your coat over a chair at the bar and then wander off.  

I think, if I were to organize an event like that, I'd attempt to provide more tables, but I'm not sure how many larger spaces there would be that it could be held in.  The kitchen was slightly elevated, making watching the chefs difficult when a camera wasn't over them (and while having the host give us a play by play helped, there were long periods of time where there was just simply nothing happening).  The judges needed a lesson in how not to mumble into a microphone, and while I understand you thought it was funny, the fact someone donated a two dollar bill doesn't really necessitate a joke about where it "likely came from."

Dude, I got dressed up for this event.  I thought it would be a bit classier.

Overall, though, the event was a lot of fun and I'd love to do something like that again.

Oh, and if nothing else, I won a gift certificate to a high-class doughnut shop.  Score.

(My apologies for stealing all of these pictures from this site.  I didn't want to be walking around snapping pictures with my cell phone the whole evening)

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