Saturday I was asked to judge one of the Top Chef Tour stops in NYC. It was a match-up between Nikki Cascone from Season 4 and Angelo Sosa from Season 7 (and Top Chef All Stars).
The other judges were Amy Cao from Foodspotting and a lucky audience member. All the audience member had to do was answer a Top Chef trivia question the fastest.
The quickfire challenge was supposed to showcase a food voted on by Top Chef Facebook fans. Fans picked shrimp, but since I’m a vegetarian the Chefs had to make a vegetarian version of the dish for me! While they were cooking Angelo & Nikki answered questions from the audience. Nikki talked about how she closed her restaurant “24 Prince” and opened her new restaurant “Octavia’s Porch” last year all while being pregnant. I’m very intrigued by “Octavia’s Porch” (Lower East Side of NYC). Nikki described the food as global Jewish cuisine. From sweet potato latkes to a wild mushroom knish, it looks like there is some food that is right up my alley.Angelo was asked about his bro-mance with Mike Isabella. After joking around about it for a bit, he said they are still great friends. He also talked about what a tough competitor he was on season 7 of the show. He obviously had his eye on the prize then, but as most of us noticed there was a marked change on Top Chef All-Stars. Angelo backed this up telling us he didn’t care about winning as much during the All-Stars competition. He cared more about learning from the experience (I personally still think he should have gone further though). Angelo also talked about his new restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, “Social Eatz. He told me there are some great vegetarian options including a tomato curry soup and a grilled tofu burger. I’ll be trying those soon for sure!
Getting back to the food! Nikki was making a red quinoa with orange segments, pumpkin seeds and more. While Angelo was making a guacamole with curry foam and white chocolate. I must say unlike the quickfires on the show, these seemed laid back. The Chefs didn’t seem to be stressing out at all!
When time was up Angelo was up first. He presented his dish as an amuse bouche (one bite). It was served on a spoon one top of a plastic plate with dry ice underneath it. I didn’t really understand the presentation, but I know he was trying to be creative. As for the guac I must say it was tasty. I was a little taken aback when he said he was using white chocolate, but you got a pop of that sweetness at the end and somehow it worked. I really wish I could have had more than one bite. Avocado is one of my favorite foods so it’s hard for me to take just one bite!
Nikki served her dish next very traditionally and she gave us a much bigger portion. I thought her dish was very balanced for a vegetarian. You’ve got the protein and grain element in the quinoa. Pumpkin seeds also have protein and iron. Add in the fruit and this was a very healthy dish. Healthy usually screams low on flavor, but in this case Nikki did a great job on this front too. I really liked the dish so it was hard to pick which of the two was best.
We had a long deliberation. Now I know why those judges on Top Chef take a long time to pick the winner.
Since I didn’t eat the shrimp I couldn’t weight in on that front. The other judges seemed to like both ways the shrimp was prepared, but leaned more toward Angelo. So I thought it really had to come down to flavor. Both were good, but who was better? I was given the honor of announcing the winner.
All in all this was so much fun and I’d judge again in a heart beat!