Saturday, March 14, 2015

Inaugural Culinary Fight Club Atlanta

What do you get when you cross an “Iron Chef”-type cooking competition with a gritty Fight Club-esque setting? You get a hipster pop-restaurant with three chefs matching skills for a chance to contend in the 2015 World Food Championships in Kissimmee, Florida.

Culinary Fight Club, which began as a fundraiser for Fight2Feed, a Chicago non-profit organization with the mission to end to hunger, has become an overnight success in its home city of Chicago. Since December 2013, Culinary has hosted 14 monthly challenges in Chitown and has selected Atlanta as the second city in their ambitious plan to have competitions in four states by 2017. The inaugural Culinary Fight Club - Atlanta was held at the Doubletree in Buckhead with challengers Chef Rich Green, Executive Chef of the Buckhead Doubletree; Andrew Tokas, Co-owner of Domaine Wine Distributors; and, Sophia Lin Kanno, Legendary Events Design Expert.

For the first Atlanta challenge, “Fight Green – Go Stout,” each chef was required to create a dish using a “green” and stout, specifically Samuel Adams Thirteenth Hour Stout. Each was allowed to bring three “secret” ingredients from their own kitchens that were checked with the judges at the beginning of the competition. Chef Rich had corned beef, Swiss cheese and tempura batter in his cooler; Sophia brought along dumpling wrappers, dumpling sauce and fresh cilantro; and, Andrew had carrots, collard greens and dried yellow lentils for his dish. In addition to their own ingredients, the chefs were given 60 seconds to select ingredients from the "pantry" of 15 ingredients which included peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, sauerkraut, eggs, cabbage, kale, and broccolini.

Each contestant was given 60 minutes to prepare their creations with the help of one sous chef and a single 10,000 BTU portable stove. As they got busy chopping and prepping their ingredients, ticketholders enjoyed wine and beer (Sam Adams, of course!), snacks (sliders and ribs) from The Green Leaf restaurant kitchen, and music by Spectrum Events. We were free to wander down onto the floor to watch the cooks at work and ask questions which they answered sporadically since they were a bit preoccupied. Emcee Kari Karch from Kenmore entertained attendees with interviews with the chefs, judges and food bloggers (that’s us!).

As the clocked ticked down the final seconds, each of the contestants put the finishing touches on their plates and prepared to present them to the panel of judges which included Mike McCloud, President of World Food Championships; Beth Peterson of 2013 World Recipe Champ; Wade Fortin, 2013 World Burger Champ; Domenick Buffone of  Mimo’s Bistro; and, Elite Yelper Anthony Martorina who served as “Cheferee” to ensure that contestants followed all the CFC rules.

As a Tastemaker, I had the opportunity to taste each of the final dishes prepared for the judge’s panel and knew they had a tough decision to make. They scored the entries on taste, originality and presentation. Each judge commented on the dishes and some asked questions of the chefs before leaving the room to deliberate. At the same time, I had to select my favorite from Chef Green’s Corned Beef Fritters with Spinach Colcannon, Andrew’s Collards Stuffed with Italian Sausage and Lentils, and, Sophia’s Stout-Braised Dumplings with Cilantro Dumpling Sauce. All the dishes were unique and appealing in their own way. The dumplings were delicate and zesty; the collards were spicy and complex; and, the fritters were crispy on the outside and succulent on the inside with layers of flavor. I made my choice and submitted my ballot for the Tastemaker Award, which is given to the cook whose dish is voted the best by Tastemaker ticket holders, just as the judges re-entered the room.

The crowd fell silent as the winner was announced (pause for dramatic effect)… Chef Richard Green would be headed to Florida in November for the World Food Championship competition! Chef Green was also awarded the Tastemaker Award for his amazing corned beef creation.

It was very exciting to be a part of such a thrilling and worthwhile event! Watching and participating in a dynamic cooking competition while raising money for Fight2Feed was most definitely an evening well spent. So forget “the first rule of Fight Club,” and talk about this fantastic event and be among the first to buy your tickets when Culinary Fight Club returns to Atlanta in June for the next #TastebudChallenge – BBQ!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Genki Keeps It Lively in Virginia-Highland

Excerpted from this post originally appearing on the Virginia-Highland Civic Association website on March 2, 2015:

Genki, Virginia-Highland’s favorite sushi restaurant, has been serving fresh, creatively presented sushi rolls and noodle bowls since opening in Atlanta in 1996. The restaurant lives up to its name, which means “energetic, and full of life” in Japanese, with an enthusiastic wait staff and lively clientele. Genki has expanded from its original Buckhead location to two other restaurants, and is also the sushi purveyor for the Georgia Dome, Philips Arena and the World Congress Center. They recently added a food truck to their inventory with the hope of reaching every neighborhood in Atlanta.

Genki owner, Reid Zeising, strived to create a friendly environment for residents by combining 100-year-old reclaimed wood with high ceilings, and hanging original artwork influenced by his childhood in Tokyo on the brick walls when renovating the Virginia-Highland location.  This location also serves as Genki’s headquarters and is the name of one of the most popular sushi rolls on their menu: “The Virginia Highland Roll” which is made with spicy tuna and mango topped with escolar, avocado, fresh jalapeño and roe. The plate is handsomely garnished with fresh oranges and spiraled beets. All dishes are hand made at each location and because each piece is sliced a bit thinner than the usual ½-inch roll, each morsel is perfectly bite-sized so that you taste all of the harmonizing components in one mouthful. The “I ♥ Sushi Roll” with shrimp tempura and cream cheese, topped with tuna, avocado, chili sauce, and wasabi cream is equally fantastic with its consummate flavor and texture combinations. To add to the experience, the TV’s playing in the background are frequently tuned to NatGeo’s “Wicked Tuna.”

In addition to amazing sushi, Genki also serves a variety of appetizers including Tiger shrimp sautéed in spicy garlic chili sauce, served over house made guacamole with wonton chips, which is a whimsical play on guacamole and chips with a spicy shrimp complement. And, what Japanese-style restaurant would be complete without a selection of noodle bowls? Yakisoba is the most popular street food in Japan and Genki’s version is proof of its status with stir-fried ramen noodles topped with super thinly sliced grilled beef and shredded cabbage, sprinkled with nori and served with red ginger and spicy mayonnaise.

Genki, located at 1040 North Highland Avenue, is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week with daily specials like “Tokyo Tuesdays” with deals on sushi, sake and beer, or Sundays when children eat free with the purchase of a parent’s entrée. Their Monday night “Genki Gives” program allows charitable organizations to earn 10% of each dedicated check. Genki also has a wide range of catering options for corporate functions and weddings.

While the food and beverage items we sampled were complimentary, I received no additional remuneration. The opinions included herein are honest and unsolicited.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Celebrating National Peanut Month

This month celebrates one of America’s favorite foods! While many cultures worldwide have a history of including peanuts in their cuisine, we have covered the waterfront on ways to use these amazing groundnuts from roasted in the shell for a ballpark snack, ground into peanut butter or tossed in a salad or stir-fry, peanuts find their way into everything from breakfast to dessert. Maybe that is why we have been celebrating National Peanut Month since 1974. Here are some of our favorite ways to use peanuts:

Colonial Peanut Soup
Soba Noodles Salad with Ginger Peanut Dressing
Couscous with Cranberries and Toasted Peanuts
Peanut Butter Chocolate Truffles
Classic Peanut Butter Cookies

Another of our favorite ways to eat peanuts is in this Thai Peanut Dipping Sauce:

¼ cup peanut butter
3 tablespoons warm water
1 tablespoon mirin
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
1 small clove of garlic, minced
½” nob of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

In the bowl of a food processor or blender, add all ingredients and pulse until completely combined and smooth. Add more water by the tablespoonful if needed to thin to you desired consistency. Transfer the sauce to a small bowl, cover, and chill until ready to serve. You can make the sauce up to 3 days in advance, but bear in mind that the garlic flavor will increase as it sits. Bring to room temperature before using.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Signature Taste of Atlanta: Chops’ Mushroom Gratin

Isn’t it curious how we associate certain foods with certain places? When we think of gumbo, New Orleans jumps to mind and we immediately associate deep-dish pizza with Chicago. In the same way, we correlate certain dishes with specific restaurants. Most successful restaurants become well known for one great dish, maybe even two.  As a result, these signature dishes become representative not just of the individual restaurant, but the city itself. Thus, restaurants can define a city; while at the same time a city influences its restaurants.

That is the concept behind Steven Siler’s, Signature Tastes cookbook series. The firefighter turned chef has spent over 20 years in the restaurant industry in addition to serving as an editor and contributing writer for several food publications. Signature Tastes of Atlanta: Favorite Recipes from our Local Restaurants is a collection of over 130 restaurant recipes that accurately define the culinary essence of the Capital City of the South.

One of those defining recipes, for us, is the mushroom gratin at Chops Lobster Bar in Buckhead. While most think of the wonderful selection of meats at when they think of this member of the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group, yet the restaurant offers outstanding sides as well. This Mushroom Gratin, created by Chef Rickey Figueroa, is certainly one of those dishes. Here is our adapted version:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
¼ cup chopped shallots
1 pound button mushrooms, quartered
¼ cup white wine
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 cup heavy cream
¼ cup Asiago cheese, grated
Pinch nutmeg (optional)

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté, stirring occasionally until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, wine, salt, pepper and nutmeg, and then cook until all the liquid evaporates.

Preheat the broiler. Add cream to the mushrooms in the pan and reduce to a gravy consistency. Adjust seasoning and then transfer mixture to an ovenproof serving dish and top with the Asiago cheese. Place under the broiler until the cheese is melty and bubbly.

Serve immediately, being careful because the dish will be VERY hot.

Order your copy of Signature Tastes of Atlanta from Amazon for $9.95 with all proceeds benefiting Meals on Wheels.

I received a complimentary copy of this cookbook for review, I received no additional remuneration. Any opinions included herein are honest and unsolicited.  

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Eat Out Atlanta Progressive Dining Expereince

When it comes to dining out, Atlanta can certainly hold its own with other great food cities. With dozens of award-winning restaurants, multiple James Beard award winners, eating out has certainly become an elevated experience in the city. This elevated experience is at the core of Eat Out Atlanta, a new members-only dining club for those passionate about food and who enjoy superior dining experiences. Members of Eat Out Atlanta receive access to off-menu dishes, wine and cocktail pairings, special seating, member-only events and secret menus. To showcase the type of exclusive experience that can be expected by EOA members, we were invited to a progressive dinner at two of Atlanta’s hot new restaurants: The Southern Gentleman and Gypsy Kitchen.

We started at the latter with bacon-caramel popcorn and deconstructed deviled eggs with battered-fried egg yolks atop cooked and cubed egg white, served with two of the gastropub’s signature cocktails: the East of the Hudson made with Four Roses bourbon, sweet vermouth, bitters; and, a smoked cherry; and, the Scarlet Belle made with strawberry-infused vodka, and lime juice topped off with prosecco. We then walked along the balcony to our second destination, Gypsy Kitchen where a giant metal sculpture of a bull greeted us as we entered. Gypsy Kitchen takes the influences of Spain, Morocco and India and fuses them together to create an ambitious and creative menu.

Once seated the plates started coming and didn’t stop until we were all stuffed to capacity. We sampled the Spice Trader cocktail made with bourbon, honey and cayenne, apricot liqueur, lime and house-made ginger beer alongside a Gypsy Salad of shaved vegetables, gypsy peppers, dried apricots, with a cumin-lemon yogurt vinaigrette; Charred Leeks with Salbitxada sauce; and, Spanish-inspired “toast” topped with Marcona almond "nutella" and shaved chorizo.

Chicken Croquetas which were crispy on the outside and creamy inside, reminded me of a twist on chicken pot pie, while the Garlic Shrimp with heads still intact had a nice spicy kick. Next came fried rice “paella” with shrimp, chorizo, and peas topped with a fried egg, which was an interesting variation from traditional paella with a unique texture and flavor.

Another signature cocktail was served; this one called The Seville Rose made with Vodka, Egg White, Lemon, Soda and topped with beautiful dried rose petals. And, the dishes just kept coming… Lamb Tangine with tomato and Moroccan spices; Pan Roasted Pork Tenderloin with roasted Brussel sprouts; and, Marcona Almond-Tikka Masala Chicken with cauliflower ”cous-cous;” all taste sensations. And just as we thought our stomachs might burst, came the last plates with churros topped with finely grated Manchego and served with chocolate dipping sauce and almond-orange cake topped with Seville oranges.

If this amazing evening is indicative of the type of experience that EOA members can expect each time they dine using the card, it is difficult to understand how anyone could ever survive without one. For more information on how to become an Eat Out Atlanta member, please visit their website. Annual memberships are currently $97 which includes a swanky anodized aluminum membership card which allows access to member’s only benefits or you can unlock your privileges via an interactive app available to download for Apple devices.

While the food and beverage items we sampled were complimentary, I received no additional remuneration. The opinions included herein are honest and unsolicited.  
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