Every year, amateur chefs from across the country gather together in just about every major city and duke it out as part of The Food Experiments. It’s a grueling trek spanning the entire country and even a jaunt over to Sweden, pitting hundreds of contestants against one another, but at the end of the journey, only one remains. On Sunday, Dec. 16, at Brooklyn’s famed Brooklyn Brewery, hundreds of food lovers were on hand to judge the 14 finalists’ dishes and name a winner.
Here were the finalists, with one chosen from each city after beating out lots of other amateur chefs with their winning creation:
Austin, Texas: Dutch Lovin’: Brooklyn Lager eggnog with candied bacon
Sweden: Nordic Bite: Salmon mousse with roasted garlic, dill, and chile peppers on a cracker
Houston: The Magic Hops: "Scotch dates" stuffed with chive cream cheese, wrapped in sausage, and fried
Pittsburgh: The Pork Dorks: Smoked pork dumplings, braised in Brooklyn beer, topped with barbecue sauce and homemade pickles
Boston: Food Alors!: Corn crepe topped with braised beef cheeks and slaw
Atlanta: Bon Rappetite: Chicken thighs braised in Brooklyn Winter Ale, with pickled onions
Washington, D.C.: Win, Lose, or Thai: Crispy fried rice cake, pickled pork, herb salad, and mango caviar
Philadelphia: Jawns 3-D: Cheese polenta topped with roast pork, chiccharon, and marinated shallots atop a Parmesan crisp
Brooklyn, N.Y.: Chef Charles: "Jewel" crusted shrimp with a beef curry and lime cilantro sauce
Chicago: I’ll Be Your Shorty Rib: Whiskey and mustard braised short rib
Columbus, Ohio: Team Funtjarvis: Braised pork on a butternut squash biscuit, topped with apple habanero slaw
New Jersey: Bite Me, This One’s For You: South African-style braised oxtail inside a Taiwanese moon pie
Durham, N.C.: You’re Bacon Me Crazy!: Bacon jalapeño hush puppy ice cream on a toasted corn flour macaron
Minnesota: Chocolate & Spice: Mexican spice chocolate mini-pies
After sampling all of the offerings, it was clear that all of these home cooks were seriously talented. "The line between home and professional cooks is blurring," said Noah Bernamoff, the chef/owner of Mile End Deli who judged the finalists along with Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver, last year’s winner and owner of the soon-to-open shuffleboard parlor Royal Palms (under construction in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood) Jonathan Schnapp, and The Daily Meal’s very own editorial director Colman Andrews. "These cooks have a lot of confidence to go after their passions, and it’s not as tied to experience and pedigree as a while ago. I would happily eat most of this food again," said Bernamoff.
While Andrews made sure to point out that there was a lot of braised meat on offer (and a lot of it was under-spiced or under-seasoned), he thought that "these cooks showed a lot of imagination," and that it was "overall a good representation of American home cooks."
The fan favorites were New Jersey’s Taiwanese moon pie, Houston’s Scotch dates, and Philly’s roast pork with cheese polenta, which won the folks behind Jawns 3-D a knife set, a Dutch oven, and two JetBlue tickets to anywhere they fly. Sweden’s salmon mousse won the prize for Team Spirit.
Then it was time for the judges’ official decisions, for all the glory. The prize for experimentation went to Pittsburgh’s smoked pork dumplings. In third place was Minnesota’s spicy chocolate mini-pies, and in second came Durham’s bacon jalapeño hush puppy ice cream. Taking the Grand Prize was Brooklyn’s own chef Charles, whose shrimp dish won him a Dutch oven, a copper cookware set, knives, $250 cash, two JetBlue tickets to anywhere they fly, and a gigantic trophy.
"I’m really excited to win this," said Charles, who until recently served as marketing manager for a consulting firm. "I’m really happy I made this career change!"