Saturday, October 6 marked the 5th annual Saratoga Farmer’s Market Iron Chef Competition. With Max London (2x champion) versus John Ireland, I knew this would be a tight race to victory. Fortunately for me, I was honored to be one of three judges at the event, and had the opportunity to sample all of the dishes that each chef created. The secret ingredients, provided by the Farmer’s Market, were kale, dill, Rack of lamb and garlala.
Max London had the first start time, so I’ll discuss his food first:
As far as presentation, creativity and taste, Max did very well. The pizza presentation was really awesome and the flavors that he developed with the vegetables were quite good. He incorporated the garlala into this dish which added that hint of garlic that you kind of expect when you’re eating a pizza. The dough was a little tricky to eat in front of a large crowd, but I managed to only get a little bit stuck in my teeth. No big deal.
His main dish, the fennel seed crusted lamb loin was delicious. The lamb itself was very delicate but the crust on the outside was really the rock star. It added a great crunch and texture that I thoroughly enjoy on a piece of meat. On this dish he also had some roasted fennel and kale along with some ricotta gnocchi. The other judges and I slightly disagreed on this dish, with the other two saying they thought it could have used more oil and salt but I actually thought it was perfect as is. For me, I’m a salt-a-holic. I seriously add salt to everything, so to taste a dish and not think it necessarily needed salt added is a big deal for me.
Finally, Chef London presented us with a crepe for dessert, with fresh strawberries, raspberries and plums, drizzled with creme fraiche and honey. The crepe was a little bit thick, but that made no difference to me. I thought the flavors developed in this dish were great. The fresh fruit rendered down made a nice subtle sweetness and then the creme fraiche added another dimension to the dish. I thought the flavors mixed really well together and I enjoyed this dish very much.
Now onto Chef John Ireland –
Chef Ireland started us off with a light and fresh shaved vegetable salad. With the simplest of ingredients, Chef Ireland created such amazing flavors with this dish. By adding the garlala to the plate, it added a little more complexity, but just enough to keep it simple.
The second dish is what really set me over the edge with Chef Ireland. He made a lamb loin on some seared brussel sprouts, wilted kale and bacon jam. Need I say more? First off, I have a weakness for brussel sprouts, they’re a great vegetable to cook with. Then, pairing them with bacon jam and a perfectly looked lamb loin? I seriously could not and did not want to stop eating this dish.
Finally for dessert he made us a cheese plate, with fresh pears, plums, dill and a sprinkle of pumpernickel crust. Some of these flavors I never would have guessed went together like they did, but it really was delightful and a perfect ending to a tough competition.
Each component of Chef Ireland’s dishes were executed so well, that it was clear to the judges in the end who we needed to crown as the winner. Chef Ireland took the win and the title as the newest Saratoga Farmer’s Market Iron Chef.
Despite the rain, this competition was an awesome way to spend a Saturday morning. The smells in the air alone were enough to keep me hanging around, even if I hadn’t been judging! I can’t wait for this competition again next year and I hope for those who didn’t attend, you make a point of it in 2013.