Thursday, April 3, 2008

Depth of Flavor

The Risotto Challenge was last night at Loki. Seventeen contestants showed up for the ricy smackdown. I was one of only three “dudes,” as one of the two very charming hosts noted. Several teams had entered, couples of all agendas. (I hadn’t known that teams were kosher.) The crowd was mostly in that 20s-30s innernet demographic (including those aforementioned host/sweethearts) and kinda hot. I mean, who wears a garter belt to a risotto challenge? (Obviously: my kind of woman). Luckily, my Cheering Section, a trio of creamy, luscious (much like my risotto) bachelorettes kept me on the straight and narrow.

I chatted with a male/female couple (he was wearing the heels and eye makeup). I called them ringers and cook-off hustlers when the let it be known they were hardcore chili competitors; in fact, they had won a recent contest with fried grated tempeh that suckered the judges into thinking it was beef. Liquid smoke. Hah! Suddenly, I was losing confidence in the judges, conceptually speaking. Tasting seventeen risottos? By the end you’d be feeling pretty mushy, too. I remember that time I went to the lasagna cook-off as an eater/judge. Oh, man. By the time the dessert lasagnas showed up (rules were much loose for this category) and I saw the one in the shape of the USA (I don’t remember if Alaska and Hawai’i were included) I was ready for a powder….
I entered the pit of battle full of confidence. I’d laid down a fierce flavor base: smoked turkey stock, a bit of ham fat sizzled out, a single anchovy blended into the onions and the garlic. I was showing a lot of character.
I was up against a blueberry risotto; one with coconut; a seafood mix up; another with artichokes, served with the leaves; something with peaches; nuts here and there; and so on (it was really crowded around the food and hard to get a good look at the hand written “main” ingredients); perhaps slightly more vegetarian than meat-based. For the tasting, contestants presented the judges with a Dixie cup each and said a few words, mostly unheard if you were in the back of the room because the microphone was only a prop. Cathy at NEONY asked me about my smoked turkey stock. I told her I’d come over and show her how to make it any time she wanted, day or night. (O, wake up, dude! Of course I didn’t say that). DiPaola, at Grand Army Plaza, Union Square, and other farmers’ markets, provided the smokies. After the official tasting, there was a great scrum over the food. I mean, free food. Brings out the animals in the best of us. I managed to get about half of the samples, before my plate was full and I’d given up struggling through the line. Some assholes are fearless line-cutters, but, alas, the defensive cutlery was plastic, which just sorta bends and snaps when jabbed at bull-headed hide.

Frankly, there some bland risottos to be had. I was surprised by the lack of depth of flavor in the mix. Hmm. There was this intriguing citrus flavor to one, called “Scarborough Fare” (sic) which turned out to be made by those aforementioned glammy chili-champs; it was quite popular with my fork mate, so I should have taken warning, for it garnered the first prize. Ringers! I was right.

Me? I got the award for the meatiest risotto. The meatiest? Moi? A mere quarter of a pound of ham? That’ll show me and my depth of flavor. Prize: a copy of The Shameless Carnivore.

A Brooklyn Batch of Neo-classical Revival Risotto Milanese was made with homemade smoked turkey stock, boxed chicken stock, saffron threads, olive oil, onion, garlic, salt-packed anchovy, celery root, Arborio rice, white wine, country ham, asparagus, red peppers, butter, & parmesan.

I was reminded by the Cheering Section that I’d been to Loki before, to celebrate my triumph in the Swamp King 10-minute play contest at the Brooklyn Lyceum around the corner some years back. That time the cash prize went to lubricating the two cast members, the director, and her mother. To the ladies of the theater! And another for my ego!


Gerry Gomez Pearlberg said...

Sounds like Big Fun. You should have won, with your nuanced, subtle, historically inflected, three-days-in-the-making stock. Yum!

Thew said...

Perhaps I should have filtered the historical flecks out... but you're right, it was big fun, and I've already worked up my appetite for risotto again.

apt pupil said...

I was sick in bed so I had to miss the shindig. I suspect if I'd made it there I'd be better by now, which I'm not...