June 6, 2011

Beer Week: Philly Cheese Experiment

After much anticipation and Twitter buzz, The Philadelphia Cheese Experiment made its debut yesterday at the World Cafe Live during Philly Beer Week. Seventeen home chefs competed to win a slew of fabulous prizes, including a trip to Brooklyn to cook in the national competition. Their creations were savory and sweet, traditional and really quite random.

More than anything, the Experiment proved that food events can be just as crowded, entertaining and inclusive when 20 random home chefs give it their best shot as when Food Network stars and Iron Chefs take the stage.

We didn't go to the Burger Brawl; we saved our appetites (and a lot of money) to support average joes who could not have been more pumped to share their creations with 350+ other average joes with one thing in common: a love for food. It's what brings families together every night and strangers together around the world (and in Philly!).

Hats off to Nick Suarez and Theo Peck of The Food Experiments for pulling off an amazing event. It really is just the two of them running the whole show across the country, and they couldn't be more down-to-earth, welcoming guys. (Read our pre-event interview with Theo here.) That's important in a grassroots event like this. The contestants and attendees were made to feel at home. No celebrities to schmooze, just a room full of cool people with whom you could share excitement for cheese/beer. Plus it was a a fundraiser for The Food Trust, an exceptionally worthy cause and proof that Nick and Theo are in this because of their passion for food.

Congrats to all the participants! It was clear that food competitions are just as much about preparation and on-site strategy as they are a good recipe. I don't envy anyone who has to cook for 350 people and keep the food fresh/hot in a foil chafing dish for 4 hours! The contestants must have slaved away for hours that morning and the day before, but it didn't stop their excitement from showing all over their faces, as they dished out sample after sample.

Bradd and I had some differing opinions on the best entries, but ultimately the crowd chose Bradd's pick, the "Phondoody," a french dip sandwich bite of beef au jus and gruyere fondue with crispy fried shallots and parmigiano on top. For Bradd, it was the clear winner. He would have loved to have a full size sandwich. The cheese fondue had by far the cheesiest flavor of all the dishes, while some others you couldn't tell had cheese in them. Winning chef shown at left.

While it didn't win any of the prizes, I voted for Cherry Mascarpone Ice Cream, made with fresh cherries, mascarpone and goat cheese, whole milk, cream, local cage free eggs, sugar and bourbon vanilla beans. The chef said she isn't even an ice cream vet. She just got the maker recently and came up with this recipe for the competition. See? don't you just love that spirit?! It was a great mix of flavors - none overpowered the rest, leaving just a little ball of refreshing, creamy goodness. I could eat a cone full.

Two of the more unique dishes included "Unconstitutional Ravioli" by the girls at Downtown Dwell, with quail egg, ricotta, provolone and broccoli rabe as the filling; and "S'morgasms" made with goat cheese filling and some other stuff dipped in dark chocolate. The former earned third place in the crowd vote.

Interestingly, neither we nor anyone we talked to, agreed with the judges' picks. The panel included Tony Luke, Emilio Mignucci an owner of DiBruno Bros., Mike Stollenwerk the owner of Fish, Little Fish and Fathom, and Maria Valetta from Philly.com. You can see their winners here. I really liked the pierogies, creatively named "The Notorious Pie.Ro.Gi," but wouldn't put it in the top three of a cheese competition. Maybe they all got fresher/better samples? Obviously they were looking at something different, because the crowd vote took a totally different direction. Regardless, having both makes it an honest competition that mixes professional opinions with what the masses really like.

Brooklyn Brewery, a major sponsor, took over the taps offering a nice selection of beers. The Summer Ale was our favorite as a very typical light refreshing beer. Also liked the Lager and the Brewmaster's Reserve. The latter had a really strong, fruity finish and was probably too heavy to drink more than one, but worth trying for your first round.

Below is a slideshow with lots more photos from the event. Enjoy!


Penn App├ętit said...

I voted for the marscapone ice cream too. And I definitely didn't understand why the pierogies won.

jen @ one curly fry said...

I voted for the Cherry Mascarpone Ice Cream as well! I wasn't really a fan of the Pierogies and will never understand how they won. It was a neat event!

A and J said...

What exactly is in a "S'morgasm"??

Anonymous said...

Your recap is spot on! It was a lot of fun & I think the amateur chefs did very well overall!

Anonymous said...

Something can't be "more unique." Look it up.

Kristy said...

Update on the S'morgasm ingredients: goat cheese and bacon, rolled in graham cracker, and then dipped in dark chocolate. The chocolate hardened and the stuck a stick in each one so it was like a pop. My favorite part was when a girl next to me turned to her bf and said, well, aren't you going to feed this to me?