This winter, in the 21st century equivalent of “hey kids, let’s put on a show”, my friend Pete and his friends and neighbors in “Halsted Flats” — a very stylish apartment building on Chicago’s north side — have been holding their own “Top Chef” cooking contests prior to watching the latest episodes of “Top Chef Season 12.” They recorded the weekly cook-offs on smart phones and posted short videos of “Top Chef Halsted Flats” on Tumblr: topchefhf.tumblr.com
I was surprised and honored to be invited to judge the final contest to decide the winner of “Top Chef Halsted Flats.” What a fun night of great and inventive food and, of course, wine. The Girl Power team of Julia and Jojo and the boys’ team of Peter and David engaged in a saucepan to saucepan battle for the title of “Top Chef.”
Top Chef Halsted Flats finalists, David, Pete, Julia and Jojo.
Pete and Julia.
Julia and Jojo’s three course menu was inspired by the Spice Girls who also provided the soundtrack to the Girl Power kitchen. Here’s the Girl Power menu:
In case you can’t read it, the first course was “scary” scallops with bacon and cream, “sporty” salmon with a soy and Dijon mustard glaze over “posh” squid ink pasta with truffle and champagne sauce with “Baby Ginger” chocolate and ginger spice cake pops with chocolate frosting paired with ginger beer.
Baby and Ginger Spice cake pops with ginger beer.
Pete and David chose an Asian theme — pork pot stickers in a miso broth with ginger and lemongrass, Asian style stir fried pork in napa cabbage cups and an almond cookie with green tea-lychee ice cream, lychee and raspberry syrup.
Asian style pork cups
More than the kitchens became heated. The three judges engaged in lively discussions about the merits of each dish and the overall menus before awarding the title to Pete and Dave’s team. Ultimately, the Girl Power team lost points for failing to take full advantage of the theme they had chosen by not opting to include spices in each course.
Top Chef Halsted Flats winning team David and Peter in Peter’s kitchen.
In addition to bragging rights, the winning team won the chef’s aprons and a copy of Chicago’s very own Top Chef Stephanie Izard’s cookbook “Girl in the Kitchen.”
For those confident enough in their culinary skills to compete for the real title, Bravo is holding an open casting call in Chicago on Tuesday, Feb. 11 for contestants for “Top Chef, Season 13. Apply here: http://www.topchefcasting.com/
Belfast’s Vibrant Restaurant Scene
In a recent regular Travel Section feature “36 Hours”, the New York Times called a visit to Belfast “an eye opening experience in the best possible way” and praised its vibrant restaurant scene. The writers gave shout outs to the Taste of Ulster sharing boards at Robinson and Cleaver, the Crown Liquour Saloon and Ox. Click on the link to read the article and watch the video.