"I love the idea of elevating the modest little hot dog into something completely unexpected."
Ah, the hot dog. Where some see a dirty water dog, others see greatness. Kara Masi has taken this New York icon to a whole new level, using it as an agent for both culinary artistry and giving back to the community. Her Great Hot Dog Cookoff, held on July 31st, offers competitors to turn the common hot dog into something delectable while raising money for a good cause. Kara took some time to tell us about the history of the cookoff and shares her ultimate New York hot dog pick.
Name: Kara Masi
Location: Fort Greene
Occupation: Founder, The Great Hot Dog Cookoff
How did The Great Hot Dog Cookoff come to be and what is it? I've always loved hot dogs. About 5 years ago, following two hot dog eating tours in Manhattan with friends, I decided to host a small hot dog cooking competition. There were about 50 of us, jammed into my apartment on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Since then it's grown into an annual charity culinary competition for amateur chefs. We've raised over $8,000 for local charities including City Harvest and the Food Bank. This year we're holding the event at Kelso Brewery in Brooklyn and will be featuring 20 'chefs.' Our goal is to raise another $7,000 for City Harvest in this year's competition.
Why do you think that hot dogs serve as such a good blank canvas for culinary creativity? Hot dogs are amazing... such a lowbrow food, but they cross all cultural and socio-economic lines. Rich, poor, who doesn't like a hot dog? The composition of a dog—from the wiener itself to the bun and the choice of cooking method—allows for such variation. And then there's the structure of the dog, which is a great vehicle for toppings and layering of flavors. I love the idea of elevating the modest little hot dog into something completely unexpected.
You're also the host of the Ted & Amy Supper Club; tell us a little about that. For the past 3 years I've been running a casual little supper club out of my home in Brooklyn. About twice a month I have over 12 guests, a combo of friends and strangers, to drink wine, mingle, and eat a lot of food. To me, it feels like a bit of a throwback—the idea of a long, winding, multi-course dinner cooked at someone's home.
You clearly enjoy bringing people together to share food; why is that so important to you? While I'm very much about the food, I'm even more into creating experiences where strangers can come together and have a chance to connect. Even though we're in this city with a zillion other people, meeting people can be hard. I produce websites by day, and I love exploring how to use online to facilitate, real, authentic, offline experiences. Also, over the past 3 years I've witnessed (and hopefully helped support) the growth of the Brooklyn artisan and locally sourced food market. It's a amazing scene and I love being able to not just feature the farmers' and purveyors' goods but also have them as guests at the suppers.
Where's your favorite hot dog in NYC? Hands down, favorite dog is the Chihuahua from Crif Dogs—a bacon-wrapped hot dog topped with avocado, and sour cream. Crunchy, creamy, salty, just right.
What are your favorite local hangouts or places you might be considered a regular? I love staying local (and I love a deal) so $1 oyster night at Cornelius in Prospect Heights is a go-to for me. My friends and I have had a standing Sunday night date there for over a year now.
What are your guilty food pleasures? Cheesecake and anything fried... oh, and hot dogs.
Where can we find your favorite NYC pizza, burger, and late night snack? For pizza, it's Artichoke Pizza on 14th Steet. I recently had the lamb burger at the Breslin, it's pretty much perfect. And for late night snack, I love wandering into No. 7 around the corner from my house for any of their sandwiches. Their kitchen is open late and they often feature the hits from their No. 7 Sub Shop.
What's your favorite hidden gem in NYC? The culinary hidden gems in the city to me are the meals cooked in my friends homes. I'm so lucky to have friends who are gracious hosts and fabulous chefs that always keep the wine flowing.