"You're going to hear a lot of interesting language today," announced Chef James Porter, host of today's Challenge to the Chefs at the Scottsdale Culinary Festival and owner of Petite Maison. The question is, was he referring to the cool culinary terms everyone was throwing around or the fact the event would've had TV censors scrambling for the "bleep" button?
Today's Challenge to the Chefs proved to be less than kid-friendly -- and not just because Porter was a tad tipsy by the end of the hour-long battle. "The secret ingredient is melons," he announced at the beginning. "How appropriate for the Scottsdale Culinary Festival." Wait for it... wait for it...ohhh! A few seconds after that time bomb of a quip, the light bulb went off and snickers rolled through the audience like a perverted version of the wave.
Porter wasn't the only chef feeling saucy today. Competitor Payton Curry, known as much for his flirty, fun personality as he is for the delicious eats at Caffe Boa/Boa Bistro, tossed in a few off-color jokes for good measure. Early in the competition, Porter encouraged Chef Payton to focus on the food instead of the pretty girl with the blue dress in the back row. "It's all food to me," Payton replied. "You are what you eat." Thankfully, the kids didn't get it. Then again, neither did the viewers who'd already indulged at the Absolut tent.
Really, you can't blame anyone for letting their mouth run a little when it's ninety degrees and you're standing near four hot cooktops. It's a tough gig hosting an Iron Chef style competition without a co-host, three famous judges and a chairman to make things interesting. And without the aid of a crack editing team to edit out the f-bombs and make what's likely a two hour event (including prep time) into exactly one hour of television.
After the audience was warmed up, the language simmered down and the four competing chefs -- Payton, Tim Fields of Sushi Roku, Matt Carvalho of Scottsdale's new RnR and Kenneth Arneson of Ahnala ( pronounced ah-NAH-la) -- got to work grabbing ingredients off the pantry table, blending, stirring, chopping and cooking up a veritable feast for the eyes.
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Chef Tim Fields was a crowd favorite, drawing cheers and chants of "Tim, Tim, Tim" as he whipped up a melon soup appetizer in no time. "Can we start serving now?" he asked after plating his dishes early. Needless to say, Fields drew the evil eye from a few nearby contestants and their sous chefs.
As the chefs worked in their mini-kitchens, Porter took questions from the audience, and threw out a few of his own. "Anyone know why they call it a fingerling potato?" he asked. One astute lady yelled out the correct answer, which is because it resembles a human finger. "So why do they call it a kumquat then?" shouted Chef Payton. We won't go there.
An hour later, the final countdown began and the chefs were told to stop plating. Chef Payton cheated a little by going over the allotted time, but no one seemed to care by that point. Porter had just been given a couple of beer refills and the audience was busy chatting and snapping pictures of the food for their Facebook pages. The judges were trying to figure out how to judge four contestants who each provided a different number of dishes.
Sadly, only the three judges and a few lucky audience members got to sample the cuisine, which smelled and looked heavenly. So, who won this whole shebang? After nearly a half-hour of eating and debating, the victory went to Kenneth Arneson of Ahnala for his chilled canteloupe soup with truffle oil and pulled pork loin with basil and chive caviar. Tim Fields took home the Audience Choice vote.