The Classic Chef Cook Off

by Cristina Sciarra

On November 17, this past Sunday, a group of dedicated cooks convened at the NYU Food Studies Kitchen to participate in Slow Food NYC's first Classical Chef Cook-off. Each chef was responsible for preparing and serving one dish inspired by their favorite culinary icon, with the provision that the ingredients should honor Slow Food's criteria of "good, clean, and fair" food. After a few hours in the kitchen, it was time for the chefs to introduce themselves (and their food) to guests and judges alike:

Angela Rivera, a Natural Food Chef and educator, prepared Autumn Bruschetta — roast pumpkin and caramelized onions on a cranberry-walnut crostini with honey roasted pecans, gorgonzola, and microgreens. Of her inspiration, Giada de Laurentiis, she said, "I love how simple her recipes are and I love how she sits and eats with friends at the end of each show. [My recipe] is a family recipe handed down several generations from my boyfriend's very traditional very Italian family that still observes Sunday dinner regularly."

Mary Elizabeth Prall, a cook passionate about local and sustainable food who works in urban farming, made a fall-themed salad. Her wheat berry, roasted agrodolce onion, and butternut squash dish with balsamic and fried herbs was inspired by Giorgio Locatelli, the Italian chef and author who lives in London. She was particularly influenced by his book, Made In Italy, "a detailed compilation of recipes dotted throughout with tales of Locatelli's lifelong love affair with food."

Olivia Roszkowski, culinary instructor at the Natural Gourmet Institute, private chef, and founder of Chef To The Pups, made vegan and gluten free tartlets with buckwheat flour, cranberry bean filling, shitake mushroom dust, market vegetables, and truffle oil. They were inspired by Annemarie Colbin, the founder of the Natural Gourmet Institute. "Annemarie has taken the Natural Gourmet to a level where plant-based ingredients are celebrated and allowed to take center stage in creative, delicious ways," she said.

Ronit Penso, private chef and author of the book 3 Courses in 30 Minutes, was inspired by Julia Child. She made onion soup with cheddar crackers and shallot sprouts. "Julia Child showed the Americans that even the most ordinary vegetable could be the base to a hearty and satisfying dish. I also like it because onion soup is an all-man soup. The seemingly plain onion is transformed into an exquisite soup simply by taking the time to caramelize it. This soup uses inexpensive and available produce, and is a true example of what "Slow Food" really means."

Tito Dudley, a Natural Food Chef who works with private clients and also as one of the head chefs for a cancer organization called First Descents, made bunless bison sliders with shallots, garlic, and a touch of maple syrup, accompanied by a root vegetable aioli, 8-pepper spicy salsa, and crispy shallots. His dish was inspired by Chef Madison Cowan. "I love his humbleness in the kitchen, his passion for food, and his commitment to his family. He is truly a family man and a role model."

Melinda Tracy, the Executive Chef at Bridger Capital and founder of NUTS & BOLTS Brooklyn, an artisan baked goods company that handcrafts small-batch gluten-free granola and cookies that are 100% organic and maple syrup sweetened, turned to Paula Wolfert for inspiration. Her braised short ribs with prunes and pearl onions, parsnip-celeriac-rutabaga mash, and walnut-watercress pesto were inspired by Wolfert's "seemingly unquenchable curiosity about food, its origins, traditional preparations and respect for authenticity. I am influenced by her in my philosophy about cooking and sharing meals."

Guests had the chance to sample all of the chef's dishes, sip a glass of wine, and chat with the chefs and with each other while the esteemed panel of judges deliberated. The judges included SFNYC Snail of Approval winning Chef Tom Kearney of Farm on Adderley, Food Historian and Chef Renee Marton, and founder of the blog Food Politic Tove Danovich.

All entries were judged based on: inspiration, seasonality and locality, potential, and of course, taste. In the end, Mary Elizabeth Prall took first place, while Melinda Tracy took second, and Olivia Roszkowski won third. Each of the three winners walked away with a prizes from Analon and Wusthof, although the true winners were perhaps the guests, who ate very well that afternoon.

Proceeds from the event benefit Slow Food NYC's programs, including the Urban Harvest program, which promotes good food education for kids at 17 New York City schools and a summer urban farm in East New York.


Cristina Sciarra is a writer and a cook with an MFA in Fiction Writing from The New School University and culinary degrees from Le Cordon Bleu, in Paris, and The Institute of Culinary Education, in New York. She has served on the Slow Food NYC board since 2013.

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