Ever watch those shows like Iron Chef and envied the judges? Have you thought that you’d have something smart to say about dishes cooked up in a short span of time with limited (and required) ingredients? Think you’ve got what it takes to judge a food competition? Well, for the next several weeks, the dream can be achieved—on a local level, of course. But the competition over at the Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament is just as heated as the televised stuff—and being just a few feet away from the chefs as they dice, sauté, and infuse milk with Cap’n Crunch (yes, that happened) easily tops any at-home viewing experience.
I was lucky enough to attend the tournament on Greek night earlier this month. Rather than togas and sorority pledging, that meant that two competing chefs were expected to each create a three-course Greek meal, using a few of the culture’s traditional ingredients—lamb, kalamata olives, grape leaves, and orzo. Nothing too wild-cardy there, but using those ingredients to create dishes that were creative and contemporary while reflecting the traditional values of Greek cuisine is where the challenge lay.
The competitors on the evening were Josh Handel of Josh Handel’s Catering & Personal Chef Service and Christopher Lewis of the Iron Bridge Wine Company. The woman across from me (an old friend of Josh Handel’s, to be fair) likened the pairing to David and Goliath: small Baltimore-native upstart catering company vs. a chef from a well known restaurant with two locations dangerously close to D.C. An accurate description or not, it went well with the tension and suspense of the evening. After all, even if it’s all in good fun, anyone who’s seen the inside of a commercial kitchen knows that for serious chefs, food is no laughing matter, and this throw down was serious business.