Carl Dooley Wins Boston Chef Competition
This weekend was a big one for the Boston culinary scene, with some of the restaurant industry’s biggest names flocking to the Boston Convention Center for the annual New England Food Show. With demonstrations and keynote speakers addressing global industry issues like sustainability, menu engineering techniques (you’d be surprised how much this can affect the success of a restaurant!), and of course, hiring and retaining talent in the kitchen, the three-day event is the second largest food show in the country.
One of the most exciting moments, however, is the annual Eater Boston Chef Competition. This year, the battle was between two of Boston’s high flyers, Josh Lewin and Carl Dooley. Lewin, executive chef and founder of Bread and Salt Hospitality, has been making his foray into Boston’s food scene after leaving Beacon Hill Hotel and starting up his endeavor with partner Katrina Jazayeri. Now, you can find both of them cooking up a storm and running Juliet, a socially responsible, hospitality-included restaurant that just celebrated its first anniversary in Union Square.
Carl Dooley is equally impressive, having worked his way around many of the city’s top restaurants, including a stint at Craigie on Main that saw him decorated with a Rising Chef Award in 2015. He is now the executive chef at The Table at Season to Taste in Cambridge.
After navigating the incredible array of food vendors and eschewing an impressive number of samples, I hooked up with my fellow judges, Rachel Blumenthal of Eater Boston and Henry Santoro of WGBH. Instructed to use sirloin steak tips and halibut in two separate dishes, the chefs got to work creating interesting, balanced, aesthetic, and of course, tasty dishes – with just 60 minutes on the clock. The chefs were to be judged according to the following criteria: taste, plating, and originality.
The intensity of energy was palpable. With emcee Jenny Johnson revving up the crowd, the chefs also had to juggle her investigative questioning, a true testament to the multi-tasking these chefs have to deal with in their respective restaurants on a daily basis.
Over at the judges’ table, with the smells wafting up from the sizzling pans and the judges not knowing what was going to be presented, the anticipation was, well, tantalizing. When the 60 minutes were up, Dooley presented his dishes first: steak tartare with chopped cashews, lightly seared Meyer lemons, and a slight spice, served with lettuce wraps. The dish was bright, refreshing, tasty, and melted in your mouth; I have no idea how he managed that in the commotion of an hour. His second dish, halibut prepared in a similar fashion to scallops, was similarly well-executed, though the plating suffered a bit. Still, it was a strong, strong start.
Both of Lewin’s dishes replicated some of the popular dishes on the menu at Juliet — but were perhaps not the best choices for a food competition. Steak and eggs was a classic rendition but compared to the bright and spunky contrast in Dooley’s dish, it got lost. His halibut soup had the potential to be interesting and daring, but as with many soups, it needed to simmer for hours, not minutes.
And the winner is...
Although Dooley won the big prize, $500 and a trip to Chicago, both chefs were also handed $250 to give to their charity of choice. Both chefs also exuded great showmanship and camaraderie. The crowds were large and sustained, and from the judging table, things were on fire in all the best ways.