Last night, downtown supply company FRS hosted Tanked, a cooking and cocktail competition. Not to be confused with the company’s other culinary competition, Whacked, Tanked pitted local eateries Chestnut, Strada Italiano and the Twisted Laurel against one another in an effort to use a pantry of provided ingredients to make both a dish and a cocktail. The event is the feature of FRS’ annual in-warehouse trade show, with hot sauce companies, distilleries, brewers and kitchen equipment manufacturers all represented.
The crowd was served free hot dogs while the judges waited to be served the creations of the competing chefs. Judges included Stu Helm of Ashevegas, Chivous Downey of Howling Moon Distillery (whose moonshine was used in the cocktails), Matthew DeRobertis of the Citizen-Times, Danette Hopey of Hopey & Co., and myself.
Scores were 1-10 based on appearance, originality, and taste with bonus points awarded if chefs wore silly fish-themed hats throughout the event, randomly burst into song (beach songs were required) or hula-hooped while cooking. Each restaurant was required to make an appetizer and a dessert course with an accompanying drink.
For the appetizers, restaurants were given a pantry of Howling Moon whiskey, octopus, jicama, golden beets, kale, ackees (a fruit in the lychee family), cactus pear and ground elk. The dessert pantry included Howling Moon Apple Pie moonshine, blueberry-maple sausage, brown bread-in-a-can, plantains, peaches, chocolate bark and papaya, with an extra point offered if they could incorporate locally made Firewalker Hot Sauce.
Twisted Laurel placed second, offering as its appetizer a red wine and whiskey braised octopus with apple-jicama slaw with prickly pear and ackees vinagerette and quick-pickled yellow beets. Dessert was bread-in-a-can pain perdu — essentially a French toast — with peach-papaya sauce, plantain chips and whiskey-marinated raspberries. Cocktails, paired respectively, were a: Concord ginger and prickly pear martini topped with a mandarin orange soda, and a dessert cocktail of Apple Pie moonshine with Firewalker Hot Sauce and peaches.
Chestnut finished third in the face of some significant challenges. The power kept cutting out for the crew, leaving the chef to prepare most of his dish on a panini press. In the end, the poached octopus with sautéed elk, kale, beets and jicama left something to be desired. Perhaps with reliable power, the team’s half-battered, half-poached approach would have wowed the judges. The cocktail pairings were apple cider with cactus pear, moonshine and sparkling water, and Apple Pie moonshine with molasses, peach and Grand Mariner.
In the end, the championship went to the team from Strada, although they experienced some hiccups of their own. (Perhaps the bonus points accrued from bartender Dave Whitehead‘s monotone interpretation of Jimmy Buffet’s “Changes in Attitude, Changes in Latitude” helped push them over the top.)
“I ran out of time,” says chef Anthony Cerrato. “The octopus just threw me for a loop on that one.”
The team served charred octopus with roasted gold beets and wilted kale with pear vinaigrette paired with a cocktail of moonshine, blood orange bitters, orange juice, lemon juice and honey. For dessert, Strada offered a no-bake bread pudding with a killer chocolate-bark ganache, cream cheese and papaya-coconut sauce with caramelized plantains and baked peaches paired with a cocktail of Apple Pie moonshine with cayenne peppers, lemon juice and apple cider interestingly garnished with blueberry sausage.
Whitehead explains, “I gave [Cerrato] the list and said, ‘What don’t you want to use, and I’ll use it in the drinks? And don’t say the sausage.’ And he gave me the sausage.”
Each participating restaurant was gifted a carbon dioxide-powered glass froster valued at around $1,000. The restaurants were competing to win an industrial refrigerator for a charity of their choosing. Chestnut was competing for Eliada School of Trade Arts, Twisted Laurel represented the Veterans Restoration Quarters, and Strada won the fridge for Community Table, an affiliate of MANNA FoodBank.