In a highly-anticipated culinary showdown at the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival, a little duck fat and the gourmet skills of one local chef reigned supreme.
Chef Rich Sweeney, of San Diego’s renowned R-Gang Eatery, was crowned “Chef of the Fest” Saturday at the 2013 San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival’s Grand Tasting event, the conclusion of the week-long foodie fest.
For the big win, Sweeney effortlessly whipped up some “Duck Fat-Fried Beignets with Burnt Orange Cream and Smoked Duck ‘Dust’ and Crispy-Glazed Duck Skin” – no big deal.
His tasty treats won him the coveted culinary title. When he took the microphone and accepted the honor, the chef had this to say to the cheering crowd:
“[I owe this] to the power of duck fat and whole lot of fat kid creativity,” Sweeney joked.
Each year, the Chef of the Fest competition brings San Diego chefs head-to-head in a fierce battle judged by the San Diego Chapter of the American Culinary Federation, along with celebrity judges.
The judges couldn’t resist Sweeney’s decadent duck-based creation and he walked away with a $3,000 grand prize and feature spread in “Cooking Light” magazine, among other victory swag.
With this being the 10th anniversary of the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival, organizer Michelle Metter said Sweeney’s dish, as well as other creations presented by Chef of the Fest participants, did the big event justice.
“I am so impressed with the quality of food and level of innovation in each dish,” said Metter. “With creativity and execution at an all-time high, we commend the winners of this year’s competition on their hard work and passion for culinary artistry.”
In the end, a total of 42 competitors were narrowed down to 10 finalists by judges using a blind-tasting format and graded point system. Participants were ranked based on cumulative scores considering their dish’s presentation, flavor, innovation, quality of product and preparation in the allotted time.
Following Sweeney’s grand prize victory, the other top 10 finalists included, in order:
• Carissa Giacalone of Vela Restaurant (Slow-Braised Pig Jowls and Snouts, Crispy Bearnaise, Chicharones and Pickled Quail Egg)
• Nicholas Bour of AVANT Restaurant (Red Royal Shrimp “Ceviche” with Ponzu Gelee and Crispy Nori)
• Derek Jaeger of The Cravory (Ultimate Ice Cream Sandwich)
• Chad White of Plancha Baja Med (Chicken Hearts, Nopal, Masa, Epazote, Queso Fresco, Cebolla Salsa, Guajillo Mole)
• Jorge Gutierrez of Romesco (Plantain Tostada with Wild Salmon)
• Tommy Fraioli of Sea Rocket Bistro (Pork Belly, Watermelon, Apple, Kimchee)
• Joe Bracero of Katsuya San Diego (Sesame Seed Oil-Marinated Ahi with Roasted Corn, Crisp Watercress, Radishes, Gochujung Walnuts with Lotus Root Chips)
• Eric Bauer of Veladora (House Smoked Lamb Breast with Chestnut and Quinoa Salad, Currants, Mint, and Pomegranate Yogurt)
• Todd Nash of Bub's at the Ballpark (Asian Chopped Chicken Salad with Romaine, Napa Cabbage, Radicchio, Carrots, Mint, Cilantro, Scallions, Grapes, Almonds, Chicken, Crispy Wontons, Lime Hoisin Dressing)
Meanwhile, Francesca Penoncelli of BiCE Ristorante took the win in the vegetarian/raw category and Carissa Giacalone was crowned winner of the meat category. Chad White took the win in the poultry category and Nicholas Bour won the seafood category. Finally, with his beignets, Sweeney also took the dessert category.
Organizers say a combined $50,000 in cash and prizes were awarded to this year’s Chef of the Fest winners.
To learn more about the annual San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival, click here.