This weekend was a big one for Boston - with some of the restaurant industry's biggest names flocking to the Boston Convention Center for this year's annual New England Food Show. With demonstrations and key note speakers addressing global industry issues like sustainability, menu engineering techniques (you'd be surprised how much this can affect the success of a restaurant!) and of course, hiring and retaining talent in the kitchen, the three-day event is the second largest Food Show in the country.
One of the most exciting moments however, is the annual Eater Boston Chef Competition - this year, between two of Boston's high flyers, Josh Lewin and Carl Dooley. Josh, executive chef and founder of Bread and Salt Hospitality, has been making his own forays into Boston's food scene after leaving Beacon Hill Hotel and starting up his own endeavor with partner Katrina Jazayeri. Now, you can find both of them cooking up a storm and running Juliet, a socially responsible, hospitality-included restaurant that just celebrated their first anniversary in Union Square.
Carl Dooley, is equally impressive, having navigated his way around many of the city's top restaurants, including his stint at Craigie on Main which saw him decorated with a 'Rising Chef Award' in 2015. He is now the executive chef at The Table at Season to Taste, in Cambridge.
After navigating the incredible array of food vendors and eschewing an impressive number of samples, I hooked up with my fellow celebrity judges, Rachel Blumenthal, of Eater Boston and Henry Santoro of WGBH. Instructed to use sirloin steak tips and halibut in two separate dishes, the chefs got to work, with a charged 60 minutes on the clock to create interesting, balanced, aesthetic and of course, tasty dishes.
The intensity of energy was palpable. With emcee Jenny Johnson revving up the crowd, the chefs also had to juggle her investigative questioning - a true testament to the multi-tasking these chefs have to deal with on the daily, in their respective restaurants. The chefs were to be judged according to the following criteria: taste, plating and originality.
Over at the judges' table, with the smells wafting up from the sizzling pans and not knowing what was going to be presented...the anticipation was, well, tantalizing. The 60 minutes were up and Carl presented his dishes first. A steak tartare with chopped cashews, lightly seared meyer lemons and a slight spice served with lettuce wraps. This dish was bright, the tartare was refreshing, tasty, and melted in your mouth - no idea how he managed that in the commotion of an hour. His second dish, halibut prepared in a similar fashion to scallops was similarly well-executed though plating suffered a bit. It was a strong, strong start.
Both of Josh's dishes replicate some of the dishes that are popular on the menu at Juliet, though perhaps not the best choices for a food competition. Steak and eggs was a classic rendition, but compared to the bright and spunky contrast from Carl's dish, it got lost. His halibut soup had the potential to be interesting and daring, but as with most soups, sometimes they need to simmer for hours, not minutes.
While Carl won the big prize, $500 and a trip to Chicago, both chefs were given $250 to give to their charity of choice. Both chefs also exuded great showmanship, camaraderie and entertainment. The crowds were large and sustained and from the judging table, things were on fire in all of the best ways.