"Many teams centered their entries around pork belly."
Given the popularity of cook-offs these days I knew it would take more than a little rain to dampen spirits of those who competed in and attended Tuesday night’s Slow Food Grill-Off at Harry’s Water Taxi Beach Long Island City. That said, I felt bad for the contestants.
I’ve cooked my share of barbecue contests in the rain. It’s one thing to smoke meat in an enclosed unit, but grilling in the rain is no fun at all. Luckily there was plenty of shelter for the contestants and a big tent for the hungry attendees to hang out under. In addition to the amateur cook-off there was plenty of grub from Fatty ’Cue, Fette Sau, R.U.B. BBQ, and Jimmy's No. 43 and Sixpoint beer was on tap.
The challenge: To use ingredients sourced from within 150 miles of the city.
The purveyors: All of the ingredients had to come from within 150 miles of the city, so they ranged from rooftop gardens and butchers in Brooklyn to farmers' markets and farms in New Jersey.
Many teams centered their entries around pork belly. So much so that I asked Theo Peck, who has a string of cook-off victories as long as my arm, whether the event was sponsored by the pork belly mafia. For the record, his entry was a jerk pork belly with fava bean pesto.
During one of the evening’s dry spells, the crowd waited to taste entries prepared by Doug Keiles of barbecue team Ribs Within and Hapa Kitchen. In case you’re wondering, these entries both contained pork belly. Take a look at them, and some of the other winning entries below.
Contestant: Hapa Kitchen
Dish: Lettuce wraps, which were some of the prettiest and tastiest I've ever seen.
Where it Came From: Those luscious chunks of apple wood-smoked pork belly came from Mountainview Farms in Vermont via Basis Farm to Chef. The lettuce was from Garden of Eve and the plums came from Red Jacket Orchards. Those edible nasturtiums, which Erway called her “secret weapon” were grown by Brooklyn’s Eagle Street Rooftop Farm. Ever the optimist Erway said, “I hope this drizzle will evaporate.” I wish her hopes had been realized. By the evening’s end, I was soaked, but happy.
Contestant: Doug Keiles
Dish: Pork belly and bok choy shooter.
Where it Came From: Keiles purchased his Leidy’s pork at the Pennsylvania Dutch Farmers Market in Princeton, New Jersey. After double rubbing his belly with a signature spice blend, he placed it in his smoker and then braised it for seven hours in a mixture of Jufran Hot Banana Pepper Ketchup and soy sauce. The bok choy came from Hillsboro Farm and was cooked down with a sweet vinegar sauce. Popping one into my mouth, I was reminded of collard greens as prepared by a madman, which in this case was most definitely not a bad thing.
Contestant: Noah Berland
Dish: Black and blue pepper-crusted steak with Jersey sweet corn.
Where it Came From: As much as I enjoyed the pork belly entries, this was probably my favorite dish. It was brilliant in its simplicity and the steak was grilled perfectly. Given that the meat came from Marlow & Daughters, it was a particularly local entry as well.
RUB BBQ’s pitmaster Scott Smith grilled New York State’s only indigenous form of barbecue, the Cornell chicken. Despite the fact he cooked it while standing under a leaky tarp, the bird–which had been bathed in cider vinegar, eggs, vegetable oil, salt, and pepper–was delicious.
Michael Crupain, the vlogger behind The Dairy Show was one of many who enjoyed Fatty ’Cue’s chicken wing along with a sample of the restaurant’s rye-based "Here and Now" cocktail. The wings had been brined and then rubbed with turmeric, curry, and chilies before being smoked at Fatty ’Cue that very morning. Then they were grilled and sprayed with brown rice vinegar.
And the winner was: Doug Keiles' belly and bok choy shooters. Second place went to the Hapa Kitchen girls Cathy Erway and Akiko Moorman for their pork belly lettuce cups. Noah Berland took third for his black and blue steak with Jersey sweet corn. For his efforts, Dougie Fresh received a gift basket along with two substantial gift certificates to Jimmy’s No. 43 and 1 Dominick.
Dougie, if you’re reading this I'd be more than happy to help you and eat and drink your way through them.