A Risotto Challenge Sneak Preview

posted in: Cook-Offs, NYC Events | 2

Last Tuesday’s Dining section in the New York Times said it all: “Cook-off mania has taken hold in New York,” Steven Stern wrote in the article that many have written to congratulate me on being mentioned in. Thanks so much! A “sizzle of triumph,” indeed! And judging from the proliferation of amateur bake-offs, pork-offs, guac-offs, tofu-offs and other organized food fights lately, the statement couldn’t be more true. For a while there, I’d thought cook-off mania had only taken hold of me, and a small flock of oddballs such as Matt Timms. In any case, wash that bib, another cook-off awaits. It’s The Risotto Challenge, co-host Karol Lu and I’s second annual arborioreum this Saturday at Jimmy’s No. 43! And I’ve got some up-to-date news on what to expect (being the “ESPN of indie cook-offs” and all).

Just before the Chowder Slam benefit for New Amsterdam Market, I polled contestants for a sneak preview of what’s cookin’. So here’s another round of contestant chatter below. But before that, a few other highlights about the event:

-As the Risotto Challenge is a benefit for Just Food, its Director Jacquie Berger will be in attendance to offer a talk on what they do, and what’s new. Just Food is a nonprofit with a mission to provide access to local and sustainable food for all New Yorkers (they’ve been helping link farms with neighborhood CSA groups for years, and are responsible in large part to the huge increase in CSAs in NYC this year, like mine). All proceeds from the $20 donation at the door will go to those efforts. Or, she could just be coming because Jacquie “LOVES” risotto. (Williamsburger alert: Karol is managing the Paisley Farm CSA chapter that picks up at d.b.a. Brooklyn, and will have sign-up sheets on Saturday.)

-And the judges are… Serious Eats editor Erin Zimmer, Pizza a Casa chef Mark Bellow and Midtown Lunch blogger and varsity cook-off judge, Zach Brooks. I cannot wait to stuff them silly.

Jimmy’s No. 43 will have a selection of fine Italian beers on tap to pair the rustic dish du jour with. Happy-hour priced, too.

-Prizes are back, bigger and better than ever. We’re honored to have some of the same small businesses as at our inaugural ‘Challenge join us again, including The Brooklyn Kitchen and Thirst Wine Merchants. In addition, Mast Brothers Chocolate, Ted & Amy’s Supperclub, Scanpan Cookware and Diner Journal will throw in prizes to worthy winners, as well as Jimmy’s No. 43 and owner Jimmy Carbone’s hot new Tribeca wine bar, 1 Dominick, offering generous gift certificates. Thanks to all!

-I am going to eat breakfast in the morning, not babble on the mic, and generally try to be a better (and more sober) host than last time.

-This has nothing to do with the Risotto Challenge, except that the first contestant quoted below has organized a stupendous-looking cook-off along with Theo Peck on June 7th. It’s called The Brooklyn Beer Experiment. Hopefully see you there, too!

These are only a handful of the 18 or so confirmed Risotto Challenge contestants on Saturday. Let’s see what they had to say:

Contestant name: Nick Suarez

Why did you enter the Risotto Challenge?
Risotto is the perfect platform to showcase your cooking. It’s like a white canvas waiting to be filled with beautiful ingredients. Did I really just say that?

What’s so special about your risotto?
My risotto surprisingly does not have any meat! That said, I woke up one morning and it hit me like a ton bricks…….Pizza Risotto!

Contestant name: Jason Anello

Why did you enter the Risotto Challenge?
My 88-year-old grandma really has her finger on the pulse. Scouring all the blogs and food sites, from her headquarters in Florida, she happened upon the Risotto Challenge. She called me immediately and pinched my ear through the phone. Next thing I knew, I was in. You don’t argue with grandma. She won regional crafter of the year 4 consecutive times.

What’s so special about your risotto?
I am half Siciliano and half Roman. I mixed the two family recipes together for my entry. Uhh… Buongiorno!

Contestant name: Noah B.

Why did you enter the Risotto Challenge?
I’d gotten into doing Matt Timms’ Takedowns, and I decided to try another set of competitions. I also had recently started cooking risotto, so it seemed well matched.

What’s so special about your risotto?
I guess in contrast with my entry in the Tofu Takedown where I went for a flavor I wanted to work with (maccha/matcha), where the color wasn’t well accepted, this time I actually started with a color (red), which led me to beets, shrimp and carrots (not red, but orange goes well), then the rest comes from spring wanting to make something light and not overly pungent hence shallots, and peas as a true spring vegetable. And then some spice to counter the sweet of the beets and carrots.

Contestant name: Roxanne Aubrey

Why did you enter the Risotto Challenge?

What’s so special about your risotto?
Everything about New Orleans is special, darlin’.

Contestant name: Mike O’Neill

Why did you enter the Risotto Challenge?
Lately I’ve been interested in improving my cooking, and trying out a dish on a bunch of strangers is a great way to figure out how well I’m doing. And, its benefiting a good cause.

What’s so special about your risotto?
I don’t know for sure what I’ll be putting into my risotto, so right now I’m hoping that love and attention will be enough to set it apart.

Contestant name: Laena McCarthy

Why did you enter the Risotto Challenge?
Liv and I make jam (Anarchy in a Jar) and a mean risotto, so why not combine the two? We also love a good challenge! Jam on.

What’s so special about your risotto?
Our risotto, entitled “jam to the beet” or “beet it” (depending on if you want that tune stuck in your head), is a glorious magenta color, with a raspberry balsamic jam, red and gold beets, and an aged goat cheese for creamy goodness. Just taste it, and you’ll know why we are the jam queens of Brooklyn.

Contestant name: Vince Trotter

Why did you enter the Risotto Challenge?
There are few things I wouldn’t do for Just Food.  Or Noteatingoutinny. Or a shot at a few nice pots.  Besides, I like to think that my great-grandfather, an accomplished chef from Northern Italy, would enjoy watching all of this from his big pasta plate in the sky.

What’s so special about your risotto?
Teamwork.  Scott Lachut (my co-competitor) and I are kindred kitchen spirits and we have a lot of fun together.  “Made with love” sounds a bit sappy — “Cooked by buddies” seems to hit closer to the mark. You can taste something like that, right?

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