To promote last fall’s Restaurant Week, dineLA loaded up a truck with chefs like Eric Greenspan (The Foundry on Melrose) and Alain Giraud (Anisette). This year, the organization has taken a different tact, featuring some of L.A.’s top chefs in a series of “Top Chef” style Quickfire Challenges. At the September 22 kickoff, Mark Peel (Campanile, The Tar Pit) took down Ben Ford (Ford’s Filling Station) and David LeFevre (Water Grill) in the first challenge, claiming victory with a matsutake-stuffed guinea hen. Peel will advance to face the winners of three more quickfire challenges.
On September 23, I was at Petrossian West Hollywood to judge the “Cold Soup” Challenge alongside Petrossian chef Benjamin Bailly and e*starLA founder Esther Tseng. Chef Nathan Lyon served as the competition’s high-energy M.C. Since we were at an establishment renowned for caviar, that was the not-so-secret ingredient that each chef had to incorporate into their cold coup.
Maison Akira chef-owner Akira Hirose amped up his classic French Vichyssoise – a potato and leek soup – with Japanese eggplant “caviar,” cubes of hickory smoked salmon (seared on one side), crushed, roasted hazelnuts, yuzu kosho, decorative dots of piquillo puree and a drizzle of Jerez vinegar.
Celestino Drago went with a summery gazpacho involving fresh-juiced heirloom tomatoes – yellow and red – plus fresh cucumber juice. He folded guacamole with orange zest and yuzu juice, adding it to the martini glasses, along with the caviar, diced cucumber, tiny croutons and basil oil.
Esther, Benjamin and I deliberated tableside, huddling over our soup. To increase the suspense, we made sure to draw out our verdict. Esther explained her decision first, declaring Celestino Drago her choice. Benjamin Bailly voted for Akira Hirose. There were rumblings in the crowd that their French connection may have been too much for Drago to overcome. My deciding vote went to Akira Hirose. Both soups were good. Chef Drago’s soup was certainly summery, but ultimately too juice-like, and by the time his croutons reached my spoon, they were soggy. Chef Hirose’s soup was richer, with bolder, smokier flavors and more textural contrast. The yuzu kosho added some good pop, and the secret ingredient was more pronounced in Hirose’s soup.
On September 28 from 6 PM – 8 PM, Palate Food + Wine chef/co-owner Octavio Becerra takes on Waterloo & City chef/co-owner Brendan Collins in the “Cold Noodle” Challenge at Starry Kitchen. The final prelim will be on September 30, when The Foundry chef-owner Eric Greenspan meets AKASHA chef-owner Akasha Richmond in Loteria! Grill Hollywood’s “Taco” Challenge.
dineLA Restaurant Week runs from October 3-8 and October 10-15, with approximately 300 restaurants featuring special three-course prix fixe menus.
Thank you to Aaron Tell, the Savory Hunter, for taking photos during the judging process.