Judging the Back of the House Brawl — I’m Judging You Right Now

So one of my favorite things in Vegas is the Sat­ur­day Night Truck Stop at Tommy Rock­ers. Every Sat­ur­day, a bunch of Vegas’ finest gourmet food trucks gather out­side of Tommy Rocker’s, a bar just on the other side of the free­way from the 15.

Every other Sat­ur­day (or so), how­ever, is when it gets really good. This is when they have the Back of the House Brawl, a friendly lit­tle com­pe­ti­tion involv­ing Strip chefs get­ting out of their state of the art, casino kitchens and cook­ing in the back of a cramped food truck. (To be fair, some of these trucks are like con­dos inside, but nowhere near what a real restau­rant kitchen is like). Epic bat­tles have taken place. Mighty chefs have fallen.

First the chefs are given the theme ahead of time to pre­pare a dish to be sold from the truck, and then after an hour of sell­ing, they are given a bas­ket of secret ingre­di­ents to cre­ate a brand new dish to pre­sented to the judges. This is where I come in.

Last Sat­ur­day, I had the honor of judg­ing Bat­tle Silk Road, between Sage at Aria and Oste­ria del Circo at Bel­la­gio, both for­mi­da­ble opponents.

Silk Road, as I explained in my overly sim­pli­fied way it via text to my friend, was the trade route through Asia to Europe, so this cui­sine could be expected to have East­ern, Euro­pean and Mediter­ranean influ­ences. For what­ever rea­son, I couldn’t make it to the truck the chef from Circo was cook­ing on, but I did get to snag a kibbeh pita from Sage.

Inside were lamb balls (of ground meat, not the jew­els), some fresh yogurt sauce, a bit of tahini, very Mid­dle East­ern tast­ing and good eats from the back of a truck.

But then it was time to get down to busi­ness. Each chef was given a Whole Foods bag with the secret ingredients:

Fukui-San!” (that was a lit­tle OG Iron Chef ref­er­ence for you)

chorizo (but quite pos­si­bly choritho)
salted capers
tahini
seaweed

30 min­utes to cook, and they were off! Basi­cally in this time period the judges drink beers and wait for our time to shine.

Finally, the moment of truth. Chef Michael Vitan­geli of Circo pre­sented us with this col­or­ful dish uti­liz­ing the secret ingredients:

Those are red and yel­low pep­pers stuffed with a mix­ture of the chorizo and capers.

Next up is Chef Richard Camarota of Sage (and I apol­o­gize for the shitty picture)

This was like break­fast in a paper boat — a hash topped with a poached egg and browned chorizo.

Here they are side by side.

I really did try to judge them equally on pre­sen­ta­tion, cre­ativ­ity and taste. But the egg.

Now. There’s some­thing you should know about me. I love eggs. Poached eggs? I will do your bid­ding. I am firmly con­vinced that from every Back of the House Brawl on, I can con­fi­dently pre­dict that any dish pre­sented with an egg on it where the yolk can be cut and run all over what­ever other infe­rior ingre­di­ents it is perched upon, will be the winner.

But for­tu­nately it is not just my points that deter­mine the win­ner. The two other judges, Susan Sta­ple­ton of Eater Vegas and Donna Rocker of Tommy Rocker’s were my co-judges, and together, we named Sage our big winner.

Like, I took oblig­a­tory bites of the pep­pers, which really was good and well bal­anced and cre­ative — but all I wanted to do was eat enough so I could dive right into that poached egg.

So here our tri­umphant win­ner holds his tro­phy up high. Con­grat­u­la­tions, Richard Camarota and Sage. I am a fan of your eggs.

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