There can be only two… Culinary Battles® 2014
By Erik Teng / Photography by Erik Teng
Six talented chefs met on the battlefield of culinary excellence at Caesars Atlantic City. Culinary Battles® is a cooking competition hosted by Caesars Entertainment, and searches for the best of the best chefs of Asian cuisine. They have narrowed down the regional competition to six chefs who are all vying for one of the two spots in the finals taking place in April at Caesars Las Vegas. Tasked with impressing four celebrity judges, these culinary gladiators each had one hour to produce their masterpiece. Six chefs entered, only two remained…
The panel of celebrity judges consisted of: Master Chef Joe Poon, Chef Barbie Marshall, Chef Justin Antiorio and Executive Chef Keith Mitchell. Both Marshall and Antiorio are alumni on Fox Network’s Hell’s Kitchen hosted by celebrity Chef Gordon Ramsey. Chef Poon is renowned as not only chef, but an artist, an innovator and a television personality. Chef Keith Mitchell is Caesars’ own executive chef at Nero’s Chophouse & Sushi Bar. These talented judges and masters of cuisine had the daunting task of deciding which dish was worthy enough to compete in an East Coast vs. West Coast battle.
The participants ranged in both style and ethnic discipline. Chef Dongchan Lee is the Executive Chef at Barn Joo in New York City, a Korean Inspired gastropub. Luo Jiang Yong is the Head Chef at Jane G’s, a Szechuan Chinese restaurant in Philadelphia. Chef Jay Cho is currently a Culinary Institute of America student and owner of Coma Food Truck. Executive Chef Jenny Wang, the only female in the competition, is a food writer and blogger and heads up a weekly supper club in New York City. Chul Kee Ko is an Executive Chef for Fushimi restaurants also in New York. And finally, Chef David Park is a Sous Chef for The Storefront Company located in Chicago Illinois.
Hosted by TV personality and registered dietitian, Chef Diane Henderiks, who did a great job keeping the audience and judges engaged the entire length of the show.
Each chef was given one hour to complete and dish their works of art. Any chef not finished within the specified time frame would be penalized. One final curve ball, the chefs were given a secret ingredient that they had to include in their dishes: sea bass.
All four judges shared their knowledge and expertise walking up and down the battle ground. They took the time to explain to the audience what each chef was doing. The results were picture perfect.
Chef Lee of Barn Joo’s final dish: Sautéed sea bass with white mushroom purée and crispy asparagus with a sesame crust.
Chef Luo of Jane G’s final dish: Salted Spicy sea bass stir fried with hot dry chili peppers and onions and shitake mushrooms.
Chef Cho’s final dish: Pan seared sea bass and sautéed pork belly marinated in gochujang sauce (Korean chili pepper paste) on miso vegetable puree with mushroom and tofu pancake (jeon). Roasted fingerling, quick pickles, char- green onions
Chef Wang of “I Forgot it’s Wednesday Supperclub”: Egg yolk in wonton with Shiitake broth and marinated sea bass and some fresh pomegranate.
Chef Ko of Fushimi final dish: Korean chili sauce sea bass. Sautéed miso shiitake mushrooms with cauliflower salad and egg yolk.
Chef Park of the Storefront Company final dish: Yuzu Dashi Mushroom Broth with pan seared sea bass and sautéed mushrooms.
In the end, the judges unanimously agreed that Chef Cho and Chef Park’s dishes were worthy enough to move on to the finals in Las Vegas.
Take it from me when I say that this competition exemplified the talent of each of these six chefs. Although only two moved on to the finals, all six were worthy of recognition, not only for their talent, but their contribution to fusing the traditional recipes of the east and putting their own modern spin and signature into these works of edible art. I am looking forward to see who reigns victorious in Las Vegas in April.
AF: Firstly, congratulations on your victory! Can you tell us, what inspired you to become a chef?
Park: I saw how passionate chefs were about food and feeding people and it inspired me in a way I can’t really fully describe. I felt like I wanted to be that passionate about something and wanted to see if I could cook and make people happy and I haven’t stopped cooking ever since.
AF: How did you first hear about Culinary Battles® and what made you decide to compete?
Park: I was home on a long visit and my friend Deuki from CIA called me and asked me if I was interested in doing this food competition and I said sure! I’ve got nothing to lose, why not?
AF: Best piece of advice you can give to some aspiring chefs out there.
Park: Be humble and work your butt off. Learn the fundamentals of cooking and become really good at it and keep pushing to become better every day. Also, there is one thing I tell other cooks that I want to help and that is, it is all on you. No one will help you if you don’t help yourself, and if you don’t want it bad enough you will never get it. Believe in yourself and be yourself, and don’t let other people dictate to you.
AF: Can you give us a little insight or secret recipe that we can try at home to give it that David Park spin on it?
Park: Recipes can seem to take a while so a little insight would be to season proteins ahead at least 30 minutes and let them come to room temperature. In most cases, cook with stocks not with water. Dashi is fairly quick and it tastes amazing. Try brightening the dish with acid using lemon or lime, or even a nice vinegar. Try cooking root vegetables or most proteins in boilable zip-lock bags so to retain the juices that come out of the food. Later, use that to glaze the produce or use it as a sauce, vinaigrette or even to blend into another dish. Try cooking things slowly, especially meats rather than blasting it with high heat. Like prime rib, cook it low and slow and then blast it at the end to caramelize.
AF: Of all the judges that critiqued your dish at the competition, which piece of advice did you find most valuable?
Park: I knew what my issues were in the dish. There was a time miscommunication that threw me for a loop. I cooked a few extra fish to make sure I chose the best cooked ones, but ended up having to just grab it and throw it on. I know Chef Poon said his was over-cooked. I cooked extra eggs to make sure I had the right textured ones, but with the last minute chaos, I left them in the hot water too long and knew it was going to be not where I intended. I know that Chef Barbie wanted a more “boogery” texture, which was my intention. I was going to add more color and depth to the dish with the addition of charred shallots and the scallions and placing the herbs in a nice manner. I knew Chef Poon said it needed more color and that it wasn’t complex in flavor. I also forgot to mention that I put prosciutto scented puree in the bottom of the bowl to bring another dimension to the sauce so I didn’t even give them a chance to look into it because I was so caught up with what had happened. But all these things failed in the fianl moments. It was really disheartening. I am my worst critic and I feel like I’m never fully satisfied.
AF: Were you thrown off by any of the secret ingredients they provided you in the battle?
Park: To tell you the truth, those ingredients work well together and in my head I had a plan to utilize egg and mushroom. The only thing was that they gave us Chilean Sea Bass and I’ve never used it before. I was expecting wild striped bass. So I guess I wasn’t really thrown off by it.
AF: Can you explain to our
readers the dish you prepared?
Park: Of course. It was Seared Bass with Prosciutto scented puree, soft poached egg, jasmine & sesame infused buttered mushrooms with charred shallots, cilantro and pea shoots in a Yuzu infused Dashi Broth.
AF: Ok, so you are one of the two chefs from the east coast who are advancing to Las Vegas. Do you have a plan for the type of dish you are going to prepare in Vegas? Are you nervous about the secret ingredient they might throw at you?
Park: Well I guess to an extent. I like to think I am a student of the craft and I try to learn and gain knowledge of others cuisines and techniques. I am always thinking about food and how I can make something better or how to do something I have not done or want to get better at. For this competition, I knew it was a secret ingredient challenge so I didn’t even test anything because I knew whatever I get it might not work with the dish I might have in mind. I just studied food in general and what I thought would be do-able in that one hour. That is why I think these secret ingredient challenges are tough because its in the moment and you only have so much time to think. I am definitely nervous, but at the same time I am very excited for the chance and want to do better than I did at this competition! Hopefully, fingers crossed.
AF: Where can our readers find you and your culinary masterpieces?
Park: On my social media networks (@davewcpark). I know that it is very important to stay active in these things to better promote yourself. Unfortunately, I’m not working for anybody or at a restaurant. I am in the planning stages of opening my own small restaurant venture. So stay tuned!
AF: One final question… And it’s the Anthony Bourdain question…What would be your ‘Death Row’ meal?
Park: Raw fish of all kinds with amazing tamari followed by tteokbokki, amazing pho and any kind of delicious ramen for entree and a delicious freshly baked sourdough bread with cultured butter made from raw cream and a nicely ripened Époisses de Bourgogne. Drinking many negronis and milkis and barley tea. Hopefully, I can share all this with all my friends and family with my dogs sitting under table!