On Sunday, June 9, 2013 at 4 PM, the Jersey City Food Co-Operative (JCFC) staged its yearly fundraising event, the JC Food Co-op Chef Showdown, wherein four local chefs battled it out for local bragging rights and the coveted JCFC Chef Showdown prize at the Barrow Mansion at 83 Wayne Street, Jersey City, NJ. Similar to Food Network’s popular show, Top Chef, the four participating Jersey City chefs were given a secret farm-fresh ingredient a few days before the event. They then had to craft a mouth-watering dish sure to impress both a panel of local celebrity judges as well as 250 hungry ticket-holders.
The secret ingredient? Kale!
I’m sure everyone was curious to see what these chefs were capable of and how they decided to incorporate this leafy super food. Participating chefs included reigning champion Chef Michael Colleti of VB3 Restaurant and Lounge, and newcomers Chef Feliks Kim of Honey Bakery, Chef Wayne Lyons of Soul Flavors, and Chef Trinsky Widjaya of Golden Grille.
Colletti’s dish included braised kale, a raw kale salad with truffle sherry vinaigrette and Applewood smoked bacon, sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese. What I loved about this dish was how the sweetness of the ricotta tart offset the bitterness of the kale. The side salad had a great crunchiness and the saltiness of the bacon was a great addition. It was creamy, crunchy, sweet and savory: a perfect balance. Don’t tell the other chefs, but this was definitely my favorite dish.
Chef Colletti was recently named as a Top 5 Chef in NJ Monthly and after working in internationally renowned restaurants like Le Cirque in DC, he’s back in his home state to pursue his own restaurant vision with his cousins. Be sure to check out his impressive modern Italian fare at VB3 located at 475 Washington Boulevard, in the Monaco building.
The next contender was Chef Feliks Kim, of Honey Bakery, pictured below with a Kale Samosa.
For anyone who doesn’t know what a samosa is, it’s basically a flaky pastry filled with savory meats or veggies. In this case, Chef Kim filled them with a mix of kale, mushrooms, tomato, garlic and onions. He added a homemade, tangy tomato based sauce for dipping. It had a peppery kick to it, which I liked.
I also got to try a sample of one of their signature dessert items, Chak-Chak, which is a honey crispy treat with sesame seeds. It’s very similar to Strufoli, the Italian honey balls that are traditionally made during Christmas.
Honey Bakery is a unique mesh of both Uzbek and Korean fare, serving pastries, sandwiches, as well as other sweet and savory treats. They’re located at 673 Bergen Ave and are closed Monday and Tuesday, but offer delivery until 8:30 PM Wednesday through Sunday.
After taking a short break from ingesting both delicious dishes, I made my way to Golden Grille’s table. There was not one, but two dishes that incorporated kale. The first was a flounder and kale with Asian seasoning in banana leaves. The other was a Thai curry with kale and shrimp. As much as I love a spicy curry with coconut milk, I hate to say I wasn’t a big fan of the flavor combinations and the kale did not seem to work well in either of the dishes. Chef Trinsky Widjaya was not present at the event but the two women serving the food were very helpful and knowledgeable.
Golden Grille, which is described as a fusion churrascaria, opened in March of this year serving barbeque like only a chef of Brazilian-Portuguese food can. The Newark avenue location serves tasty charcoal-broiled barbecue pork ribs, chicken, steak and seafood. Apparently Chef Widjaya is also of Southeast Asian descent, which may explain the dishes served at the Chef Showdown on Sunday.
Last, but certainly not least, I tried Chef Wayne Lyons dish: spicy kale and lemon sorbet served on a sweet roasted red pepper purée garnished with a kale Parmesan and cornmeal cracker. This was the only dish that was served chilled and it is no surprise that Chef Lyons won the “Creativity Award.”
Chef Lyons is no stranger to secret ingredients, having been a Food Network TV’s Season 7 “Chopped” Champion. I’m very eager to try his restaurant, Soul Flavors, located at 354 Grove Street, especially the buttermilk marinated fried chicken and waffles!
A few members of the judging panel included Trish Szymanski of Uptown Crew and Ed Ramirez of Ed’s Salvage Company, and The Food Network’s Mory Thomas. Overall I was impressed with the diversity of all the dishes. As most of us know, kale is not the easiest ingredient to incorporate into meals. However, only one chef can reign supreme. For the second year in a row, judges chose Chef Michael Colletti of VB3 and the “People’s Choice” went to him as well. Congratulations to Chef Colletti!.
The event was MC’ed by “Dancing Tony” Susco of Rock-it Docket, and in addition to the great food served by the above four chefs, there was local craft beer, a tricky tray and silent auction, and bowling in the basement of the Barrow Mansion.
So basically for $30, ticket holders got to sample four kale-incorporated dishes, go bowling, eat additional food provided by the Jersey City Food Co-op, listen to music, participate in a silent auction for awesome items, all while supporting a wonderful community organization. What a deal!