Iron Chef Redding: Delicious Contest Infused Fun into Fundraising

iron-chef-best-lede

It’s true that just one chef won the first Iron Chef Redding competition Saturday, but I hesitate to put it that way, lest it lead to the unfortunate conclusion that the remaining chefs were losers.

Losers? Au contraire, my fellow foodies, especially when one considers that of a possible 112 points, the winning chef garnered 110 points, while the other chefs trailed by one point each, respectively.

All three chefs outdid themselves to the point that throughout the evening I heard people comment that the demonstration inspired everyone to revisit those chefs’ restaurants. I know I felt the same.

You could definitely feel the love for all three chefs, as well as genuine excitement and affection for Iron Chef Redding, a fundraiser and kick-off event to benefit the North Valley Food Co-op, a first for Redding; something long, long overdue.  (If you missed Jim Dyar’s story about the co-op, you can get all the details it here on anewscafe.com. Golly but it’s easy to write with the help of the Internet. Link, link, link.)

The setting was the cavernous space of The North Valley Co-Op, a partnership between the Healthy Lunch & Lifestyle Project, Slow Food Shasta Cascade and Healthy Shasta that joined forces to develop a food cooperative in downtown Redding, scheduled to open in July. Oh happy day.

For a few hours Saturday I nearly forgot I was in Redding. The co-op’s locale has such a hip and urban feel to it, what with its alley-access that led to the first party inside the co-op’s huge, risotto-white, warehouse-wide space, crowded with more than 100 people who quickly bought tickets for the sold-out event.

I would have gone anyway, but I was invited as a judge for the Iron Chef Redding’s cooking competition between Redding chefs Cal DeMercurio of Rivers Restaurant, Che Stedman of Moonstone Bistro, and Wes Matthews of Market St. Steakhouse .

My fellow judges were Shasta County District Attorney  Jerry Benito, Shasta College Culinary Arts Director Brad Peters, and the evening’s mystery judge, Ann Webber, an excellent cook in her own right, as well as a business woman with Infinite Designs in Redding. (Photo below.)

ann-webber-secondary

Ann Webber, one of four Iron Chef Redding judges, pauses between bites to determine how she’ll rate each chef’s plate during Saturday’s North Valley Co-op fundraiser.

Webber’s daughters were the high bidders on their mother’s behalf, and presented her the honor of being a judge as their gift to her.

When DeMercurio, Matthews and Stedman walked from the Placer Street alley through the theatrical fog into the event’s dining room, the party-goers were clearly cheering for all three chefs.

Patterned after the Food Network’s “Iron Chef”, the first “Iron Chef Redding” fundraiser and membership kick-off seemed a crowd-pleaser, though the evening did have some glitches, such as trouble with the sound system that really tested the performance experience of emcee Robert Soffian, who maintained a witty dialogue throughout the evening, despite a pair of speakers that crashed to the floor (at different times), and microphones that seemed to have minds of their own, and the challenge of keeping the audience posted, and talking with the judges and surveying the chefs’ progress. Perhaps the biggest glitch of all was of the electrical nature, when over-loaded kitchen breakers blew periodically, which added yet another layer of pressure to the contest when blenders, food processors, a trio of stoves, ovens and deep-fryers suddenly went dark, only to come alive again. No pressure there, fellas.

Surrrre.

I know what some of you may be thinking; that judging a cooking competition between three of Redding’s top chefs is a pretty cushy job, right? Poor judges. Somebody call us a waambulance.

I’m here to tell you that being a food competition judge is not the purely decadent fun you might imagine, but extremely difficult, stressful (OK, and delicious) work.

We judges observed these three excellent cooks surrounded by their helpers. We knew that each one wanted to win very badly. Chefs have egos, too, you know.

We were also aware of the incredible sacrifice each chef made to be there that night. They walked away from their restaurants and brought their staff to join them for an unpaid Saturday night in the peak of a recession, all for a worthy community cause.

The chefs were given the option to feed the crowd, or not, although we judges were told to not take the crowd feedings into consideration. Rather, we were there solely to judge one plate presented by each of the three chefs.

They had 90 minutes to do all their cooking from scratch from all local ingredients, including cheeses, cream, wine and produce. Oh, and the two secret ingredients, line-caught ahi tuna and London broil beef from Prather Ranch.

This was a tricky ingredient match, because it forced a sort of surf-and-turf connection, one way or another.

Three categories each had a potential of 10 points for each chef: Presentation, Taste/Flavor and Creativity.

As jazzed as I was before the contest, I had a sudden change of heart as soon as all three chefs’ plates were placed before us:

I changed my mind. I didn’t want to judge. Each plate looked and smelled spectacular. I wanted to give them all first-place ribbons, enjoy what they’d prepared, have some wine and call it a great night.

But it’s not called the Bleeding-Heart Fluffy Chef contest, but the Iron Chef. The contest scoring by us judges began in a solitary kind of way, with each judge marking his and her own papers, without input from each other (aside from occasional eye-rolling and exclamations of Oh My God). Amazingly, although I never knew exactly how each of my fellow judges scored, the point spread only varied by two points from the first place to third.

It seemed an impossible choice, made even more difficult because of the incredible differences between the three men’s dishes.

We knew the plates as A, B, and C. However, we’d watched the cooking progress for more than an hour. From our front-row table we could easily identify some dishes’ creators from kitchen clues, such as we saw Matthew’s staff making pasta dough, and we noticed DeMercurio’s staff pushing the beef through a meat grinder attachment, and we saw Stedman carefully cutting cheese triangles.

For what it’s worth, I gave each chef at least one 10 point score. I gave DeMercurio 10 points for creativity for his plate that obviously took the Asain theme and ran with it, probably with the introduction of ahi tuna as one of the secret ingredients.

DeMercurio made “dragons” of extremely thin, deep fried dough, that was also formed into a fortune cookie shape, and held in a spring-roll fashion the ground beef mixture. (See photo, below.)

cal-plate

Chef Cal DeMercurio of Rivers Restaurant created an Asian-inspired plate that married the ahi tuna with ground London broil, complete with “dragons” on top and a wasabi sauce below.

I gave Stedman 10 points for his plate presentation, which was absolutely gorgeous, in a modern French sort of way; a very pretty, clean and colorful arrangement that included a wedge of grilled ahi, bookended by rare, tender beef atop a crudeti, topped with a perfectly poached tiny egg, artfully arranged in a way that reminded everyone that yes, we do eat with our eyes first. (Photo below.)

che-plate

Chef Che Stedman of Moonstone Bistro created an artistically understated, yet creatively colorful plate that pleased both the eye and the palate.

Last, I gave Matthews 10 points for taste, based upon his plate that seemed to read from left to right in complexity and power. It moved from mild to strong, starting with greens and sliced oranges, moving onto to seared, sliced, extremely rare ahi, which was bridged by ravioli heavily laced with herbs, leading finally to the pounded, thinly sliced beef upon a drop-dead delicious wine reduction. (Photo below.)

best-wes-plate

Chef Wes Matthews of Market St. Steakhouse won the Iron Chef Redding competition with this plate that began with sliced oranges over fresh greens that led to perfectly seared, thinly sliced ahi, followed by an herbed ravioli, finished with rare, tender thin slices of beef accompanied by a wine reduction to write home about.

Matthews won, in a dark-horse kind of way. For one thing, this was his first cooking competition, one in which he was pitted against two men renowned for their culinary pedigrees and awards.

On the other hand, it’s worth mentioning that Matthews learned to cook at his parents’ various restaurants over the years, from Chocolate de Nannette and Bry’s Catering to Mr. Natural. Matthews, who recently bought and reopened the popular Senor Rosa’s Mexican restaurant on Eureka Way in Redding, was the youngest of the Iron Chef competitors, and undoubtedly the one chef with probably the least professional training.

When Matthews’ name was announced as the winner, he looked about as surprised at the news as we judges were.

His father, Bryan Matthews, a long-time Redding restaurateur and caterer who was also on the younger Matthew’s cooking team, looked absolutely as proud as a father could be of his son. (Wes is on the right.)

wes-and-dad

Chef Bryan Matthews, left, said he couldn’t have felt more proud of son Chef Wes Matthews for winning the Iron Chef Redding contest.

Mother Nancy Matthews wept with joy.

Following the announcement DeMercurio demonstrated class and grace when he took the microphone, congratulated Matthews, then spoke highly of the young man’s culinary climb from a boy to man. Then DeMecurio shook each judge’s hand, and thanked us.

Stedman looked stunned, and I must say, I shared his shock. I knew how I had scored each chef, but even so, I would have predicted him as the winner. Stedman’s a talented young chef, a high-energy, passionate showman who cooks way outside of the box. Not to mention that he clearly wanted to win. And he slammed out hundreds of plates of samples for the audience, even though he knew he’d gain no points for doing so. Finally, judging by the applause when the trio of chefs entered the room, Stedman had more vocal supporters on board.

But I also thought DeMecurio would win, too. After all, he’s a gold-medal Olympic chef winner. He’s cool as sorbet under pressure. He cooks confidently and quietly. He’s probably cooked longer than any of the competitors. For decades DeMercurio’s name has been associated with fine dining and creative, experienced cooking.

Either way, a winner was chosen, and, to nearly everyone’s surprise, it was Wes Matthews.

But really, everyone there was a winner. We were all there for the birth of the Co-Op, the most delicious idea of all.

Photos by Jeanette Ernst and Doni Greenberg.

doni-new-mugIndependent online journalist Doni Greenberg founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Greenberg was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
Comment Policy: We welcome your comments, with some caveats: Please keep your comments positive and civilized. If your comment is critical, please make it constructive. If your comment is rude, we will delete it. If you are constantly negative or a general pest, troll, or hater, we will ban you from the site forever. The definition of terms is left solely up to us. Comments are disabled on articles older than 90 days. Thank you. Carry on.

22 Responses

  1. Avatar Lana says:

    Congrats to Wes and to Cal and Stedman as well and I am ecstatic for the Co-op for Redding!!!

    Enjoyed the piece and agree it would have been very difficult to be judging this event!!

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Avatar Guenn Johnsen-Gentry says:

    Thank you Doni! A wonderful article…

  3. Avatar jacki g. says:

    Wow! "An embarrassment of riches" as my mother would say….and a food co-op in Redding…Oh, happy day, indeed!

  4. Avatar Canda says:

    What a great article, Doni! I love the way your writing puts the reader right there with you. I feel as if I attended the event, feasted my eyes on these masterpieces, and enjoyed every bite. Congratulations to all 3 incredible chefs, and to the food co-op. BTW, I love your new photo! You're beautiful!

    • Avatar Emma S says:

      Had you attended, you would NOT have enjoyed the goodies. While lots of fun, the event was complete chaos. Setting aside the technical difficulties with speakers and fuses, there wasn't enough food for the people that paid $40 per ticket to attend. At my table, we barely got any food, and what we did get was thanks to Chef Che, who put together some "goodies" for the crowd. They ran out of salad, soup, fish and meat before everyone was served. Hope for something more professional next year …

  5. Avatar Skip Murphy says:

    Nice work, Doni. Your article made me feel as though I were there alongside you for the event. Thanks for that, and thanks to all the participants for their support of our local food artisans.

  6. Avatar Tammy D says:

    What a great way to celebrate the opening of something grand for Redding. Sounds like every Chef did a wonderful job! Welcome North Valley Food Co-Op!

  7. Avatar Lee says:

    Very nice Doni. It sounds like it was a great success. I am so happy that a co-op will be In Redding. What an auspicious event. Not many food co-ops are started these days, and this one seems to be getting off to a rousing start. Hoorah!

  8. Avatar Karen C says:

    Great article Doni, I am sorry we did not go. All great chefs in their own way. I am looking forward to the co-op, just one more great place to go for Redding.

  9. Avatar Budd Hodges says:

    Hi Doni…What a tough job to find a winner among these three. I know Cal and have eaten at all his restaraunts going back to when he was a chef at the Red Lion on Hill Top.

    Congrats to Chef Wes. Cook on Wes, you're a keeper !

  10. Avatar Bridgette Brick-Well says:

    Thank you, Doni, for sharing your experience at Iron Chef Redding 2010! I wanted to add some more information for you readers regarding the food and wine served and the production crew who helped make this event possible:

    Represented at the Wine & Farmers'/Producers' Walk:

    Intermountain Vineyards and Winery, Redding

    Alpen Cellars, Trinity

    Mt. Tehama Vinyards, Manton

    Nu Olinda Olive Oil, Happy Valley

    North Valley Farms Chevre, Cottonwood

    Home Craft Breads, Redding

    Cha and Va Yang Lee Family, Chico–fresh carrots and snap peas

    Pedrozo Dairy and Cheese Co., Orland

    Churn Creek Bottom Homeowners & Friends, Anderson

    Represented at the Iron Chef competition:

    Wild Pacific Albacore– sustainably harvested, line-caught albacore tuna loin (NOTE: this is not ahi, which is yellow fin tuna) http://pacificalbacore.com/
    Rickert Family Farm–organic wild rice

    Prather Ranch– london broil

    Pacific Sun Olive Oil, Gerber–olive oil

    Moore's Flour Mill, Redding–bread flour

    Pedrozo Dairy and Cheese Co., Orland–Northern Gold and Black Butte Reserve cheeses

    Matson Vineyards, Redding–white wine

    Lassen Peak, Shingletown–red and white wine

    Intermountain Vinyards and Winery–red wine

    Hillman Farms, Shingletown–garlic, sundried tomatoes, eggs

    Dance Farms, Shingletown–herbs, eggs, greens

    Redwood Organic Farm, Manton–herbs, green garlic, greens

    Cha and Va Yang Lee Family Farm, Chico–carrots, snap peas, spring onions, strawberries

    Shambani Organics, Shingletown–lettuce

    Churn Creek Meadow Organic Farm, Anderson–herbs, greens

    Epperson Family Farm, Montgomery Creek–eggs, rhubarb

    Rosser's Bakery, Red Bluff–sourdough french bread

    Home Craft Bread, Redding–sweet french bread

    Production Crew:

    Fred Chavez-Cameras

    Dave Palin-Camera & set-up sound

    Chris Tait-Camera

    Pete Bilton-Lights

    Mike Flanagan and Cheri Davis-Sound

    David Gentry-Art/Sets

    Robert Soffian-Emcee

    Jen Cartier-Emcee

    Many thanks to the judges; to the Shasta College Culinary Arts students; and mostly to the farmers, producers, and our fabulous Iron Chefs who all made it possible to produce a local event, with local food, and incredible local talent!

    • Avatar Chris Hall says:

      Ouch! You just outed the sound guy who should be locked up for poor rigging (speakers falling?) and held accountable for bad sound mixing. The lights guy probably is responsible for drawing a bunch of power and it's his responsibility to check on the amount of electrical service to the building and the other power draws such as the kitchen to ensure there will be no power failures. Who's in charge here anyway? There is no credit for that, I see. Otherwise congrats to all.

  11. Avatar Cris Hillman says:

    Thanks Doni! What a wonderful article! It was such an honor to be involved, even in a small way…..Redding is way overdue for a co-op! Hoorah!!

    • Avatar Bridgette Brick-Well says:

      Darnit, Cris. I forgot to mention your profiteroles! They were scrumptuous and PERFECT!! Your contributions are never SMALL!!

  12. Avatar Adrienne jacoby says:

    More and more and MORE Redding is becoming a mecca for multiplicity of sensory services. Even the sense of smell gets serviced if you visit the right garden! :-)))
    (those represent the chins!!) I LOVE this town!

  13. Avatar Emma S says:

    To Brick-Wells: Did you know that many of those of us who paid to attend didn't get served? While it was a lot of fun to watch the pandemonium the event turned into, about the only time the servers came to our table was to serve more wine (not good for those of us who had to drive home). At one point half of the table got served a very tiny salad (thanks to Chef Che for at least trying to get some food around). 20 minutes from end of competition, two out of ten at our table got cheese and strawberries … the rest of us got nothing. By the time main dish came, there was no fish left, and we were given a plate with meat slices "to share". Hope next year gets organized better.

    • Avatar Bridgette Brick-Well says:

      Emma,

      We were aware that the food service was problematic and that was entirely my fault. We had to make several serious last minute changes to the event and yet still wanted the chefs to be able to provide food to the guests. As Chef Brad Peters, Shasta College Culinary Arts Program, warned….this was not a good decision. I take full accountability for that poor choice.

      We have offered a refund to anyone who did not get served and if you will send me your name via email to info@helpshasta.com, I will make certain that you receive yours.

      We have learned much from this first ambitious endeavor and can assure everyone that next year's event will be nothing less than spectacular.

      Thank you for your feedback and support of the North Valley Co-op.

      • Avatar Emma S says:

        I am very excited about the Co-op, and will continue to support it … including coming back next year for Iron Chef Redding 2011. I doubt anyone had as much fun on Saturday as we all did … even with the first-year wrinkles. And not only do I want you to keep my $80 bucks, but I plan to send it the $50 membership app this week. Best of luck!

        • Emma and Bridgette, you both exemplify class and grace with your conversation here. What joy when dialogues occur in which reasonable people can voice reasonable concerns and reasonable people choose to respond with humility and responsibility.

          Be still my heart. 🙂

  14. Avatar Fred Chavez says:

    I will be posting a highlight video soon so everyone can actually see with their own eyes. Though Donnie had allready done that with her wonderful article.

    Fred Chavez

    "The Video Guy"

  1. July 12, 2011

    […] participated in this year’s Iron Chef Redding, please read this article by one of our judges, Doni Greenberg. It provides a wonderful insight to an onlookers point of […]