Last night at 1st Ward Events at Chop Shop the air hung thick with the infectiously tantalizing aroma of sizzling pork. Culinary Fight Club had taken over the event space and a 5-chef pork cook off was underway when we arrived. CFC is a monthly cookoff, each with a new theme and new teams, ensuring no two experiences are alike. Competitors range from home cooks to executive chefs, each vying to create a winning dish that represents their take on the month's theme.
This month's "more than just bacon" showdown featured a range of contestants including Geo Phelps of Chili Rocks, Tony Balestreri of Kimski, Lance Avery of Big Fork Brands, Ross Johnson of Carriage Greens Country Club and Matthew Morin of Cruz Blanca. The event was MCed by Chef Paul Young of Reinhart Foodservice with CFC's own Anthony Martorina serving as "Cheferee."
After 60 minutes of quick marinades, deep frying, waffle making and dumpling folding, the completed dishes already looked (and smelled) like winners. But in the end, judges Alex Shebar, Dylan Lipe and Michael Fiddler awarded the night's top prize to Lance Avery's pork and mushroom udon dish, with the crowd's tasters's choice award going to Tony Balestreri's pork dumplings (admittedly my favorite dish of the night).
CFC got its start in Chicago but has expanded this year to 17 cities nationwide. Early bird tickets are $30 and jump to $40, so get yours early. Tickets include admission to the competition, tastings of each complete dish, a voting ballot and an hour of all-you-can-drink beer. Next month's theme is "TACO" and the Chicago battle is going down on April 17 at Cesar's Killer Margaritas. 20% of the proceeds from each event go to supporting Fight2Feed, an organization I discussed in my article about volunteering.