Getting Top Chef Treatment at San Diego Wine & Food Festival's Fruit de Mer Cooking Demo

Top Chefs hard at work - well, some of them!

November 19, 2012

On the afternoon of Friday, November 16th, foodies and reality show addicts alike clamored into the Macy's School of Cooking at Macy's Home Store Mission Valley to watch former Top Chef participants duke it out while preparing a mouth-watering, wine paired, 4 course tasting menu for all in attendance.  Sponsored by Alaskan Seafood, this San Diego Wine & Food Fest event consisted of four Top Chefs, each who had 20 minutes to teach us the techniques of their recipes, and quickly they did, as we all looked on with hungered anticipation and San Diego's Top Chef Brian Malarkey fielded questions in the audience.

Chef Brian Malarkey fielding questions!
Former Top Chef contestants Edward Lee, Lindsay Autry, Sarah Grueneberg, and Mike Isabella competed, each in their own style, while San Diego local and award-winning Executive Chef, Brian Malarkey, hosted in his notoriously flamboyant fashion, zipping around the room, urging onlookers to interact and ask questions.  The event was unique and most enjoyable, especially for fans of Bravo's Top Chef series, as all the chefs showed themselves in human form - joking, taking jabs, imbibing, and having a blast throughout the 90+ minute demo.

Jersey native and the only Top Chef Allstar in the lineup (which he made known...several times), Mike Isabella, started off the battles with an olive oil poached cod atop a sweet and savory camponata.  Isabella, often the class clown of his colleagues, detailed how appreciative he was for his Top Chef stardom.  His cod was flaky and moist and was complemented by the caponata, which had many layered flavors due to the multifarious ingredients: raisins, peppers, pine nuts, eggplant, zucchini, squash, red onion, capers, curry powder, and balsamic vinegar.

In true Top Chef form, it was seemingly a 'battle of the sexes,' as Season 9 alum, Edward Lee cooked next.  He composed a baconized salmon filet along with watercress greens and a tahini vinaigrette with apple zest.  Chef Lee joked that he uses soy sauce and sesame oil in almost all of his dishes...and later on, during a discussion on favorite olive oils, he interjected, "My favorite olive oil is sesame oil!"  Lee's dish used an excellent cut of salmon, so smooth, pure, and unadulterated by the surrounding ingredients, which enhanced the experience rather than overwhelming it.

Texas native and Italian food Top Chef Sarah Grueneberg went with a Sicilian dish called Insalata Pantesca con Granchio.  A layered salad punctuated by lump Dungeness crab, mixed potatoes, and an amazingly flavorful, bright green pesto, this dish was refreshing and crisp, and was likely the best offering...up to that point.  This delicious dish was paired with an Alexander Valley Vineyards 2010 Chardonnay.

They really did save the best for last, at least as far as food goes.  Top Chef Season 9 finalist, Chef Lindsay Autry presented her quintessential passion and poise in her demonstration and her dish lived up to form.  Consisting of pan roasted alaskan rockfish atop a fiery tomato couscous with spanish chorizo, kale, and cilantro microgreens, Chef Lindsay's dish was packed with diverse flavors, all of which came together in perfect harmony.  It was one of the better tastes of the entire festival, and Lindsay was gracious for that compliment.  

After all of the Chef's presented their dishes, Malarkey opened it up to the audience for questions - no holds barred.  The Top Chefs answered questions from everything regarding their behind the scenes experiences, even discussing Padma's up close beauty and qualms with the directorship of the show.  As a huge fan of reality cooking shows, especially Top Chef, it was beyond enjoyable and the food actually really impressed for such a fast-paced event.

I would highly recommend this class for future San Diego Wine & Food Fest incarnations, and I can't wait to see what is done next!

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