UPDATE 8/9: Iron Chef Eugene Brad Burnheimer had an unavoidable catering commitment, so Chef Mandra will be filling in at Iron Chef Oregon this weekend. If you’re in Portland, go and cheer on our two Eugene competitors, Mandra and Iron Chef Oregon 2012, Jeff Strom of Koho Bistro, who will be defending his title!
Yesterday was a beautiful day at the Bite of Eugene. We sampled all manner of goodies from local chefs, drank Kore Kombucha, wine from William Rose and Kandarian Cellars, and beers from Agrarian Ales and Claim 52. Take a look at my full photo set on Facebook.
Most of all, we enjoyed the passionate battle for Iron Chef Eugene 2013 with competitors Chef Brad Burnheimer of Agrarian Ales/Burnheimer Meat Co., Chef Max Schwartz of The Old Pad, and Chef Nengah I Mandra of Lucky Noodle/Ring of Fire. The competition had some setbacks, after Chef Brendan Mahaney from Belly fell ill, so he and Taco Belly Chef Justin Trent needed to bow out of the contest at the last minute. Luckily, Festival Organizer Steve Olivier was able to have a wonderful chef fill in, long-time Ring of Fire Executive Chef Mandra, who performed as a true pro would — without prep, a sous chef, his own ingredients or tools, and on the spur of the moment. I was extremely impressed. When are you going to open up your own place, chef?
It was nice to see my Iron Chef pals Jeff Kandarian and Joel Pomerantz, judges for the first round, and meet the rep for the festival sponsor, American Family Insurance, Jonathan Nixon, who served as the remaining judge for Round 1. I judged the finals with my radio show co-hosts, Boris Wiedenfeld and Ryan Stotz, and Lance Sparks handled the emcee gig with a little help from his wife, Artie Lieder, Steve Olivier, and the judges of the final round. It takes a village!
Many thanks are due to William Rose winemaker Mark Nicholl, who ceded his Round 2 judging duties and instead provided us with a couple of bottles of his wonderful Riesling (I think he must have heard me talking about it on the blog!) to enjoy with the finals dishes, and chalk artist Lester Mayer, who sketched the competitors. His work was auctioned off to audience members and presented as a thank you to Chef Max Schwartz, who has competed in Iron Chef for four years running, each time with a narrow miss for victory.
After some unusual and lovely dishes for Battle Chinook Salmon and Battle Hazelnuts, including a gorgeous squash blossom stuffed with salmon saltimbocca and a chicken ballantine with hazelnut herb stuffing and hazelnut romesco by Chef Burnheimer; a salmon noodle curry with sauteed apples by Chef Mandra; and a surprising hazelnut flan with a nugget of chocolate-hazelnut spread inside by Chef Schwartz, we decided to crown Chef Burnheimer Iron Chef Eugene 2013. May he reign supreme at Iron Chef Oregon!
And one more shout of huge appreciation to Steve Olivier, who has put on this festival for five years, often just breaking even, and the volunteers and vendors who make it a wonderful experience for all. Sure, it’s for a great cause and the sponsors donate money to a range of food non-profits, but what matters most to me is the labor and effort we all extend to make our community better when we get together at these venues. This is why I’m so proud to participate and would encourage more Eugeniuses to make the effort to attend and appreciate the folks who grow and make your meals. For every weirdo who takes food from the Iron Chef judging table as the chefs are still making their deliberations (yes!!), there are 10 stories of a successful restaurateur giving advice to an up-and-comer about new city funding initiatives for business development, a sous chef impressing his boss with the popularity of a new recipe, farm secrets shared and giggled over, recipes debated, and new directions open to exploration.