Garlic Chef Stadium bannerWho will be the next Delray Beach Garlic Chef?  That’s the question that kept a good crowd of us watching and waiting at “Garlic Chef Stadium,” a large tent at the 2013 Delray Beach Garlic Festival.  The occasion was the Garlic Chef competition, Delray’s version of a Food-Network-style contest featuring chefs from popular local restaurants competing for the coveted title of 2013 Garlic Chef.
This year the festival organizers decided to open the contest to Delray chefs only, to keep it down-home.  This town has no shortage of quality restaurants.  The Downtown Delray Beach web site lists 111 of them, in just the downtown vicinity.  The contest did have a fun, down-home feel.  While the chefs and their teams were working hard in the (hot) stadium kitchen, the atmosphere was casual, jovial, and even playful.  Emcee Executive Chef Michael Giletto, an import from NJ & California (he commutes coast to coast), kept the spirit light with his ongoing reports from the kitchen and give-and-take with the audience.

Chefs Giletto and Gittleman

Chefs Giletto and Gittleman

It was nice to watch an intense competition in a casual, friendly setting.  The fact that the chefs and judges know and like each other ensured that they wouldn’t take the rivalry too seriously.  I enjoyed being able to walk around at will, taking close-up photos of the chefs and their creations, meeting the judges, chatting with audience members, volunteers, and the official photographers.  One person I spoke with, a chef from another restaurant who came to root for one of the contestants, told me that many of the chefs and restaurants have loyal followers (a good many of whom were in the audience cheering for their favorite chef), and that they know and like each other.  Just a few minutes later, this sentiment was echoed by one of the judges, who took the mic and thanked everyone for being there.  He commented that the town’s chefs, while competing for customers, support each other, sharing knowledge and techniques in a spirit of camaraderie.

Round 4 judges

Round 4 judges

Rounds 1 and 2 took place yesterday; the two winners faced off today in round 3, followed by a final match-up against the reigning champion from 2011 and 2012, Chef Chuck Gittleman from Karma Sushi and Steakbar in neighboring Boca Raton.

A garlicky dessert

Vanilla-chocolate-garlic dessert

Yesterday, the chefs had 10 minutes to create a 3-course menu from a tray or bin of ingredients they were given.  Turkey was the star in round 1.  Round 2’s main ingredient was pork belly.  And, of course, all dishes had to feature garlic.  The teams had an hour to create and plate their meals for the judges.  I missed today’s round 3, but the culinary curve ball in round 4 was that each course had to be a dessert.  None of these chefs considered themselves to be bakers and generally relied on their pastry chefs for dessert.

Round 1 contestants were Executive Chef Omar Montoy from The Office restaurant and Executive Chef Bruce Feingold, from Dada.  Round 2 contestants were Executive Chef

Blake Malatesta from 50 Ocean

Chef Blake Malatesta

Erick Miranda from Vic & Angelo’s versus Executive Chef Blake Malatesta from 50 Ocean, a restaurant that Cooking Channel’s Emeril Lagasse recently visited during his Florida’s Beach and Waterfront Restaurants episode (to air next week, I believe).  Today, yesterday’s winners Chef Bruce and Chef Erick vied for top two in round 3, with Chef Bruce going on to battle Chef Chuck for top spot.

So, the 2013 winner is…. (obigatory dramatic pause for building suspense) … Chef Bruce Feingold, from Dada.  You can see his winning desserts on the Dada Facebook page
Bruce Feingold of Dada

Chef Bruce thanking the judges