Four of the Bay Area's top chefs, including Mill Valley's Tyler Florence, squared off Sunday in the Anolon Chef Challenge, a TV-style chef competition that was one of dozens of events at SF Chefs, a world class food festival at the Westin St. Francis.
The challenge saw Florence, the Food Network star and owner of the Tyler Florence store in downtown as well as the new Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco, team up with Elizabeth Falkner of Orson, located in the south of Market section of San Francisco. The pair was pitted against fellow Bay Area standouts Jen Biesty (Scala's Bistro) and Chris Cosentino (Incanto).
Each duo was asked to cook three incredible dishes in one hour using one secret ingredient: lamb from Superior Farms in Dixon. The judges, Sunset magazine food editor Margo True, cookbook author Georgeanne Brennan and San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Lynne Bennett judged the final dishes on creativity, taste and presentation.
While the chefs sautéed, diced and sweated, emcee Liam Mayclem of CBS5's Eye on the Bay worked the chefs and the room a la Alton Brown on Iron Chef to create a lively, laughter-filled atmosphere. The audience of one hundred well-heeled and Food Network-friendly locals were there to see the chefs in action, but posed some zinger questions.
A Q&A with the audience revealed that Florence would be an architect if he were not a chef, and eats Honey Nut Cheerios for breakfast at home with the kids but prefers the American cuisine of Mill Valley's own Buckeye Roadhouse when eating out.
And the next big food trend? "American Heritage Cooking," Florence said.
Divine aromas wafted over the audience throughout the hour. Sadly, no one got a taste. Florence and Falkner's three dishes were tomato and fennel poached eggs with lamb meatballs and cheesy grits; lamb t-bone with pomegranate, fig and chile gastrique; and cumin and clove scented crepes with pluots and ground lamb. Biesty and Cosentino presented diced lamb tartare with capers and parsley; lamb bavette; and ground lamb pepperonata with tomato.
The judges, in an attempt to show no favoritism towards such high-profile chefs, offered small distinctions in their assessment of the teams' dishes. Where the crepes were "high medieval," the tartare was seasoned "just right." The audience, without benefit of taste or close-up shots of the dishes, was left to decide for themselves which team or chef won their hearts. The judge gave a "slight edge" to Biesty and Cosentino.
Were Florence and Falkner disappointed? "Today was all about fun and getting to know the other chefs," Falkner said.