Weeks before I got my email to be a Food Judge at the Taste of Buffalo, I had received another email from Christa Glennie Seychew. Usually she has some type of good news to tell me (new restaurants opening, inviting me to some cool event) and sure enough she made my day. I was officially invited to be one of 4 judges for a Nickel City Challenge at the Taste of Buffalo between two of Buffalo’s most talented Chefs (Krista Van Wagner from Curly’s and JJ Richert from Torches).
The other panelists were Buffalo News food writer Andrew Galarneau, cookbook author Laura Anhalt and a lucky fan from the audience (Adrian, a man from the Bronx who was celebrating his birthday at the Taste of Buffalo). We were given the difficult task of eating delicious food, talking into a microphone about why this food was so tasty and then giving each meal a score out of 20.
Normally with NCC Challenges, the competitors are required to use special secret ingredients from a local supplier. In this case, both Chefs had to make their ideal taco using whatever they wanted. JJ Richert’s taco (pictured above) included a marinated skirt steak, large pieces of lobster claw and was topped with fresh avocado all wrapped in a flour tortilla. He even gave each contestant a beer (Sly Fox Pikeland Pilsner) that had the rim rubbed with a grilled lime and then salted, just like a Margarita. The steak was marinated and cooked to a wonderful tenderness and the lobster (which was cooked in butter) added rich flavor with each bite.
While JJ went with the look of “street food on the go” and a simple presentation, Krista Van Wagner took a different approach to her Taco (pictured above). While she didn’t offer an alcoholic beverage like Chef Richert, her presentation was the definition of “Food Porn”. She also made a lobster taco; topped with a mango salsa, a sweeter/spicy jalapeno slaw, queso fresco and folded it all in a crunchy half-corn/half-flour tortilla. The combination of the salsa/slaw, buttery lobster and crunchy tortilla was wonderful. Both dishes made me want to fight through the pain of a full stomach to eat everything on my plate.
I had a real dilemma on my hands, both of these tacos were delicious and I would have probably paid a good price at either restaurant for either entree. I gave a one point advantage to Krista because of her presentation (see the Caribbean cinnamon stick?) and it turned out that might have been a big deal since she was the winner by just one point. Both chefs put on a great show and Christa did a great job as the MC of the event and again, I can’t thank her enough for thinking of me to be one of the judges.
Nickel City Chef had several challenges over the two days on their stage and if you missed any of them you probably missed seeing some of the best food at the festival. No, you couldn’t eat any of these taco’s yourself, but if you are a fan of Iron Chef on the Food Network you’ll love watching the events NCC put together. Their 5th season of NCC will start up in early 2012 and tickets will go on sale in January (and probably sell out within hours).
In the meantime you can catch out Christa’s other events this summer with the Elmwood-Bidwell Farmers Market Tours, check out the dates here.