Record Attendance at the 22nd Annual Championship BBQ & Cook-Off
Competing chefs squared off over hot coals at the 22nd Annual Championship BBQ & Cook-Off and fed over a thousand of the industry’s leading chefs and operators. The event, co-hosted by Flavor Forays and their new media partner Plate magazine, was held May 19 at Galleria Marchetti during the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago.
Aaron Bickham (Bartolotta Restaurants) came down from Milwaukee and walked away with the grand prize Jade Grill for his Charred Carrara 640 Waygu, Braised Baby Turnip Greens, Smoked Oxtail, Bone Marrow Honey Butter, Masa Bread. Paul Bartolotta and other members of the restaurant team were there to cheer him on.
“Great day for a great cause, the weather broke at the right time,” Bickham says referring to the torrential rains that miraculously stopped just as the BBQ was getting underway. “Cooking outside with the Bartolotta executive team is something we do not get a chance to do enough of. I was honored to take part.”
What about that amazing Waygu that had everybody raving? “The dish was an inspiration from something my older brother would throw together when I was younger. He's also a chef and six years older. When he didn't have time to smoke meat overnight, he would just char beef tri-tip and serve it over braised greens and sliced white bread. I took a simple dish I grew up with and amped it up.” Did he ever!
Tony Priolo (Piccolo Sogno), who has been participating in the BBQ for over 13 years, claimed the Vitamix Vita Prep runner up prize for his Grilled House-Made Barese Sausage with Grilled Rapini and White Beans. “The dish was inspired by the neighborhood Piccolo Sogno is in,” Priolo explains. “There’s a small deli that has been there forever, Bari Foods, and they have amazing subs and homemade Bari style sausage. So we decided to make the sausage and serve it with Purgatory beans and grilled rapini and the results paid off.”
“Being a part of the BBQ has always been a highlight for me during NRA,” Priolo says. “It’s a great way to stay in touch with the restaurant community and have a fun competitive barbecue for a great cause.”
An Edward Don basket of chefs’ toys went to Décor winner Greg Biggers (Margeaux Brasserie) for his eye-catching display of hanging ducks.
“We are so happy to be involved with the BBQ,” says Biggers. “We had a great time coming up with this dish. We really wanted to do something that was fun for us and representative of what we do at the restaurant.”
He explains: “We have recently made ourselves a small dry aging ‘cave’ with sea salt rocks that we hang our chicken and ducks in at the restaurant. We have had such good response with it at Margeaux we figured we would try it out over a grill. We had our friend Brandon weld us a rack to fit the grills and slow roasted them over the open fire. Super fun and it turned out visually spectacular!”
Sani, a company known for making germs disappear, highlighted the event with an illusionist performing his own disappearing acts.
Meanwhile magic of another kind was taking place in the Plate/Arc-Cardinal VIP Lounge. “Dragon’s Breath”, Chef Katsuji Tanabe’s signature smokin’ caviar was drawing crowds. There the Bravo Top Chef fed curious onlookers Tsar Nicoulai caviar pop rocks paired with J. Lohr wines.
Thanks to all the champion chefs who donated their time and talents: Ashlee Aubin (Fisk & Co.), Aaron Bickham (Bartolotta Restaurants), Greg Biggers (Margeaux Brasserie at the Waldorf Astoria Chicago), Amber Lancaster (Fifty/50 Restaurant Group), Ryan McCaskey (Acadia), Maureen Neer (La Sirena Clandestina), Martial Noguier (Bistronomic), Robert Palenski (Ernst & Young, Restaurant Associates), Tony Priolo and Mike Burke (Piccolo Sogno); Carlos Ramirez (County BBQ).
It was all for a good cause-- World Central Kitchen, an international organization led by chef/humanitarian José Andrés, which uses its network of world-renowned chefs to find sustainable solutions to end world hunger and the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Chicago’s food bank, which distributes the equivalent of 160,000 meals daily. The food bank also collected the leftover food at the BBQ and distributed it to those in need. Lamb Weston stepped up to make additional donations of $5,000.00 to each charity. A silent auction by Sportsnation Enterprise also benefitted CORE (Children of Restaurant Employees) an organization that supports families of food and beverage employees in times of crisis brought on by medical emergencies, a death in the family, loss of home and other extreme conditions. The auction featured celebrity-signed memorabilia.
Barbara Mathias, former Food Arts publisher, founded the event two decades ago and continues to produce it along with her colleague Beverly Stephen, former executive editor of Food Arts. Their company, Flavor Forays, joined with Plate Magazine as a media sponsor for the first time this year to organize this must-attend industry party.
The following sponsors make the BBQ possible: Anheuser- Busch, Arc-Cardinal, Beam Suntory, Bigelow Tea, ConAgra, Constellation Brands, Elohi, J. Lohr, Jealous Devil, Jade Range, JBF Blended Burger, Lamb Weston, Nestle Waters San Pellegrino and Aqua Panna, Impossible Foods, The Perfect Purée, Sani, Smithfield, Sugar Foods/Schreiber Foods, Schuman Cheese, Sweet Street, VerTerra.