The glamorization of the food world by reality TV has gotten a bit out of control, so much so that South Park took it upon themselves to point out just how porn-like the whole fetish-ization of cooking has become. In reality, if you want to become a cook, you need to prepare for years of sweating and bleeding; getting cut and burned day in and day out, and spending the first half of your career being paid nothing, or at best, next to it. The way it’s portrayed on television these days, people have come to think that becoming a chef is the new quickest road to celebrity, and learning to cook and omelet is all one needs to become the next Johnny Iuzzini or David Chang. In reality, the overall effect of all this food glamour is nothing but a bunch of dirty kitchens across America. The good news is that a backlash has begun, a rallying cry amongst people who truly have passion for cooking. In Brooklyn there’s a scene forming around the world of Amateur Competitive cooking and Nick Suarez and Theo Peck have become the maestros of it all with their Food Experiments: amateur cook offs in which experimentation and creativity is a must, each with a different theme and a laidback vibe. Past experiments have included, The Chocolate Experiment, The Taco Experiment and The Bacon Experiment. This past Sunday, The Holliday Food Experiment kicked off at The Bell House in Park Slope.
The back room of the Bell House was more packed than I’d ever seen it, showing that media buzz surrounding what Nick and Theo are doing has really started to have an effect. On the stage stood Nick and Theo along with the judges: Garret Oliver, brew master at the Brooklyn Brewery, Andrew Knowlton of Bon Appetit Magazine and Peter Hoffman, owner of Savoy and Back Forty in Manhattan. Each guest was presented with a plate and two beer tickets upon entry and after a short wait, got a chance to sample each of the 27 contestant’s dishes. The Holiday theme, it seemed, was taken loosely by the cooks but many decided it meant that sweets were the best way to go, and as a result, some of the evenings best tastes were sweet. Dianna Whittles “Gingerbread Blondie Bites,” Roopa Marcello’s (Food Experiments winner many times over) “Frosty Flipped Fruitcake” and especially, “Richard Crider’s” super most, fluffy and gooey “4 Layer Sweet Potato Pie Cake,” were evening’s most notable sweet bites.
On the savory side, Team Philomena’s “Wobbly Gobbler,” a fried turkey dish stood out, as did Erin Evenson’s goat meatball dish. Hoping for Chanukah-centric morsels, I was a tad let down by lack of latkes. Fortunately, right off the bat I was able to get a bite of Genny Weiss’s “Jewish New Yorker’s Holiday Treat,” which featured liver, with mayo, dill, apples, onions and potatoes on a homemade potato chip, kind of like chopped liver meets charoset.
I asked Theo Peck what Jewish holiday food meant to him.
“It certainly does not mean light! In fact it means quit the opposite.” He then went on to express his disbelief that there were no latkes entered into the competition and told me to stick around to the end for their big announcement.
With a full stomach, I ended up feeling just like I would after a holiday meal, fat and sleepy. Nick and Theo announced the winners, awarding the judges’ prize to Alyssa Lee’s “Gingerbread Empanada’s which came with an eggnog flavored ice cream and candied nuts. Each member of the audience had a chance to vote for their favorite meal as well, and in the end, it was Team Righteous Burn’s Righteous Sau, a pork on potato chip concoction that got the big prize. Nick and Theo made the announcement that The Food Experiments was hitting the road, taking the cook offs across the nation to have people compete in major cities across America. They also promised that once they rallied up the best amateur in cooks they could find, they’d be bringing them to Brooklyn to compete against “The Brooklyn All Stars” of The Food Experiments.
The best part of it all is that even though people entered the competitions to win, their motivations had nothing to do with money or fame, but something else, something best described by contestant Tony Santoro’s response when I asked him why he entered the competition.
“When you hand someone your dish and they put it in their mouth and their eyes roll back in their head, so happy, and you know that you gave them that feeling, it’s the best thing in the world, nothing can beat it.”