For those of you that obsess over The Food Network and cheer on the challengers on competitive kitchen shows like Chopped or Hell’s Kitchen you’ve gotta check out the area’s newest dinner event for your foodie reality fix. Open Chef-A-Me is an open mic night for local chefs, an open kitchen night to be exact. It gives passionate cooks a chance to try their hand at a commercial kitchen and offer up their delicious food to a restaurant full of people.
The four founders of Open Chef–A–Me, Bart Mroz, Jesse Middleton, Evan Kaplowitz and Louis Brice, came up with this concept while sitting at the Dark Horse in Philadelphia discussing their love of karaoke and eating. Within three weeks they created a foodie event that combines both of these American pasttimes.
When I first heard of the event I thought two guest chefs would compete against one other to see who put out the best food. Instead,it’s simply a shared kitchen where each chef individually prepares their own appetizer and entree and they have a team effort for the dessert. They are each given a budget of roughly $800 between the two of them (though the budget varies for each event), to create their dishes and they share costs on the dessert. There is no outright competitive vibe given but with every chef there is an ego that wants to outdo the other.
To get a taste of what this was all about I asked three Chester County residents to take a road trip to this month’s host restaurant, Ava Restaurant, at 518 S. 3rd Street in Philly. The appeal of this event for me was that the meal could very well tank should the amateur chef melt under the pressure of feeding a restaurant full of folks instead of a few friends at home. It’s like watching the audition portion of a talent show where you hope for the best but the amusement of knowing there is a possibility for public embarrassment shamelessly appeals to our culture (myself included).
The players in the Open Che-fA-Me that I attended last week were Tim Crowe (a computer programmer, culinary student and star of his own cooking show www.eatingcrowe.com) and Sarah Feidt (artist, educated as a biologist/mathematician, creative lead for a business development firm in Philly and a guide for an adventure club and “clean food” freak [preservative-free eating]).
The project’s founding fathers ask the hopeful chefs to abide by the following guidelines:
1. You must cherish and love the food you prepare, serve and eat.
2. You must be confident in your cooking ability. Never waver above a hot cauldron or jump away from a sizzling pan.
3. You must prepare delicious, delectable and devilish food. No matter what style you cook in, it must taste great.
4. You must contact us. We know it sounds unbelievably simple but too many people don’t take a risk.
- First Course:
- Langoustine Buzara (from Tim) – Langoustines braised in a light broth so satisfying you wish you had a juice box of it for a picnic
- Shrimp Guacamole (from Sarah) – Guacamole with small tequila-grilled shrimp and fire-roasted poblano chilies
- Second Course:
- Braised short ribs (from Tim) – Short ribs with grilled corn, pepper and onion relish
- Spicy Quail (from Sarah) – Quail marinated and glazed in brown sugar, soy sauce, clover honey, jalapenos, garlic and then roasted
- A joint preparation of a surprise fruity, creamy dessert that we’re sure everyone will enjoy
Ava is a BYOB so my group stopped by our trusty spirits shop to pick up a bottle of champagne (I love the cheap stuff – judge me), a bottle of Shiraz and a bottle of Pinot Noir to accompany the menu. The tickets for the event cost $35 a person and the parking was a mere $3 after getting the card stamped before leaving the restaurant. We arrived at the recommended 6:30 P.M. time to meet our tablemates.
Our group had the pleasure of sitting at a table with “Chef” Tim’s wife and friends. As Tim came out to describe the first dish and give a demonstration on how to eat langoustines (a creature that is bigger then a crawfish and smaller then a lobster) he informed us that the proper way to eat it was to break it in half and “suck the good organs and stuff out through the head.” His wife was apparently not a huge fan of this dish but made sure to show support to her hubby by eating it as he described. Although I tried the organs I decided I’d rather focus on the tail meat and sopping up as much of the yummy broth as I could with the table’s garlic bread.
The next course was from Sarah and I was thrilled to see the huge scoop of bright green guac piled high on a corn tortilla with a perfect little shrimp on top. The first entree, as Tim explained to us, were ribs that were so tender they fell off the bone while cooking, so while “everyone has a bone, it may not actually be your bone.” Sarah’s spicy quail was my favorite dish and had me rethinking quail all together with how tender and well-seasoned it was with a sweet saltiness.
The “surprise” dessert turned out to be a Tres Leches cake with strawberries that had been soaked overnight in sugar and basil. Each bite was absolutely perfect and dripped with summer goodness.
Our road trip was a success, we spent time together, met new friends, filled our bellies and secretly rated both chefs to see who was better. Food, friends, drinks and a little friendly competition, what else could you ask for? If you’re a wannabe chef, food officionado or just in the market for meeting new people and having a good time, Open Chef-A-Me is for you. Check it out.
Want more details?
- Snail Mail:
435 Bainbridge Street, Outer
Philadelphia, PA 19147