Sunday, August 11, 2013

Re-cap: McCormick Chef Challenge

The Citi Open, benefiting the Washington Tennis and Education Foundation, returned to Rock Creek Park from July 27-August 4th. Though things heated up on the court during this nine day tennis tournament, the most heated competition took place off the court as Bravo's Top Chef finalist, ABC’s The  Chew co-host and owner of Alchemy, Carla Hall; Bravo’s Top Chef competitor and owner of Belga Café and B Too, Bart Vandaele; and defending champion and owner of Taco Bamba and Del Campo, Victor Albisu, competed in the McCormick Chef Challenge.

During this 90 minute challenge chefs were asked to create a three course meal using themed ingredients and McCormick herbs and spices (chefs were given 30 minutes to create each course).  Judges Philip Lajaunie of American Summits, food writer Nevin Martell, Chef Huda of Pretty and Delicious, Daniel Dotzenrod of the Tennis Channel and McCormick's own Executive Chef, Kevan Vetter, awarded the top prize after scoring each of the chef's dishes on taste, theme and use of McCormick spices.

During the 1st course chef's were tasked with creating an "unexpectedly fresh" dish featuring crab.

Chef Victor Albisu cooked a smoked crab pasta dish.

Chef Carla Hall tossed together a crab salad.

Chef Bart Vandaele stuffed signature Belgian Waffles with crab meat.

After the completion of each course, guests enjoyed a seated dinner catered by Design Cuisine,  who put their own spin on each of the chef's dishes.

For the first course guests were served tapas style portions of crab salad with dill, cayenne pepper and feta, smoked crab with angel hair, squash blossoms and American sturgeon caviar and a mini crab puff pastry with citrus cream.

For the second course, under the theme "Not Your Mother's," chefs were challenged with modernizing one of their mother's most memorable (for better or worse) dishes using beef as the key ingredient. 

The McCormick spices came out in full force during this phase of the competition. 

As chefs fired up the grills, the smell of McCormick spices filled the event space.

At times I felt like I had just swallowed a mouthful of McCormick spices, Lucas Chili Powder style (for anyone not familiar with Lucas, it's a Mexican candy that I often ate by the handful, though it is often used as a topping as well). 

Guests were served  trip tip steak on Parmesan polenta with chocolate red wine sauce and pickled vegetables (Chef Bart's dish), trip tip steak wonton raviolis with peas and chicken veloute (Chef Carla's dish) and trip tip steak on crostini with blistered shisito peppers and black olives (Chef Victor's dish). 

Last, but definitely not least, chefs were tasked with creating a "Summertime Sensations" dessert highlighting peaches. 

Chef Victor Albisu baked empanadas to serve with a side of homemade ice cream. 

Chef Carla Hall rolled, cut and baked pie strips. 

Chef Bart Vandaele grilled peach halves. 

To complete their tasting menu, guests were treated to grilled peach empanadas with vanilla bean ice cream and rosemary infused honey, tomato-peach compote in rustic pie dough with cinnamon, poppyseeds and sesame and grilled peach halves with lavender, chipotle rub and chipotle beer sabayon.

Judges were tasked with a difficult job that night, but after the tried and true test of audience applause awarded Carla Hall five extra points for being the audience favorite, Victor Albisu held on to his crown as he was once again announced as the winner of the 2013 McCormick Chef Challenge. 

Congrats Victor for continuing to amaze all the judges, Carla for wowing the audience and Bart for giving Victor and Carla some stiff competition (and for charming the audience with your humor). 

For ideas on how to incorporate McCormick spices in to your own cooking, visit

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