The contest is the brainchild of Adirondack Appliance’s Tom Thibeault, who after holding a similar event last year with the Saratoga Farmers’ Market, decided to expand on the idea. What Thibeault ultimately came up with is a summer-long battle for kitchen supremacy.
“I had done the Iron Chef tournament for the farmers’ market last year, and there was a ton of public interest in doing something more,” said Thibeault. “I’m a big foodie myself. I really enjoy cooking and I really enjoy all of the restaurants in the tournament. We thought it would be great to pit them against each other to see who comes out on top.”
On June 1 and June 8, the preliminary brackets will get underway during the Parade of Homes: Chefs on Parade event. The event is split into two regions based on the physical location of the participating builder. June 1 will be for the Southern region of builders, and will feature Saratoga Springs restaurants Max London’s and Elizabeth’s Table along with other eateries from around the Capital Region. The June 8 competition will be for the Northern region, and include chefs from The Local, Lake Ridge, Mouzon House and Jacob and Anthony’s and others.
The first two events taking place at Chef’s on Parade focus on the builders and their paired restaurants coming up with “the perfect bite.” Better known to the culinary elite as an amuse bouche, the one-bite appetizer will be judged on overall taste, creativity and presentation. Each category will be ranked out of 10 points, and the contestants will have 90 minutes to finish their entry. The top six teams will be seeded into a tournament bracket, with the top two teams receiving a bye into the semifinals scheduled for July 15.
“What we’re encouraging the restaurant to do is make a single-bite appetizer that encompasses the full flavor and feeling of their restaurant,” said Thibeault. “We want it to be a kind of edible business card for each restaurant to get themselves out there. Because they’ll be competing against one another, we want them to put a lot of effort into this to make the ‘perfect bite.’”
The remaining four teams will go head-to-head once again June 23 at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market for the first round of bracketed play. Each team will have an EVO grill, a 36-inch Blue Star Professional Range and a Big Green Egg at their disposal. Their ingredients will be a basket filled with different items available at the farmers’ market. This event will be judged similarly to the first round, but points will also be added for best use of provided ingredients.
Judges for the event will feature some of the areas foremost restaurant experts, including Steve Barnes from the Times Union’s Table Hopping Blog, Sally Longo from Look TV’s “Guest Who’s Cooking,” Melissa Doney from “Hell’s Kitchen” and Saratoga’s very own Mamatoga, Jenny Witte.
“As a lover of all of our local restaurants, I can't wait to see what the chefs are going to put together for us to try in the gorgeous new gourmet kitchens,” said Witte.
The semifinals will be held Sunday, July 15 during Saratoga Polo Association’s regularly scheduled match. The final four teams will compete under the same rules as the quarterfinals, with the only change being a “mystery basket” of ingredients being revealed to the contestants the day of the contest, with the top two moving on to the last event in September.
Lastly, the finals will take place during the annual Wine & Food and Fall Ferrari Festival beginning September 8. The format for the finals will follow the same as the semifinals. The winner will receive a plaque commemorating their win in the Cast Iron Chef Invitational, as well as an EVO Affinity grill.
“I think it’s great that we have a lot of local businesses participating,” said Thibeault. “We have a lot of great restaurants in town getting themselves out there. It’s great that the whole community is getting involved with this and I think it will be a really fun event for people locally and people visiting throughout the summer.”