We celebrated our 25th Open Stove event last night, and the festivities started off with Jason saying, “I’m going to do everything in my power to piss off Lily tonight.”
Now, the Open Stoves previous to last night's have all been very fun and exciting--the talent was always there, and everyone was guaranteed to leave feeling full, drunk, and satisfied. But last night, something was different. Maybe there was something in the water.
Or maybe it was all the vodka...
First, let's introduce the teams:
Collin looks pretty familiar, right? If not him, then maybe his last name. That's because you're looking at Jason Cichonski's little bro, and he's been working front of the house at Ela for quite some time now. So what's Fuji doing with a front of house guy on his team? It wasn't always that way.
A few weeks prior to this event, Fuji asked his friend, a guy he's cooked with in the past, to be his partner. He asked him far enough in advance that it shouldn't have been a problem, but I guess it was too far in advance because Fuji's original sous ended up booking a salsa class with Jason Cichonski's girlfriend on the same night as Open Stove. So, while his friend was out dancing with Jason Cichonski's girlfriend, Collin Cichonski took over. And it wasn't like he's had no experience—he's helped the Ela team at Cochon 555 and other similar events, but it was never anything that would've been documented like this. So when I watched Collin look at the deep fryer and shout out, "This is pretty cool! I haven't gotten to use one of these things since New Years, when I started deep frying wagyu!" I knew we were in for a hell of a night.
Team Alla Spina's amuse bouche was simple. Testina (pig's head) stuffed cherry peppers with a dill cucumber salad. If grocery stores sold those stuffed peppers by the quart, I'd make them a part of my weekly grocery list.
Secret Ingredient #1
So it's beer week, and blah-de-blah-de-and-blabah-de-blah. Obviously, we'd have to include an ingredient that coincided with the festivities happening around town all week. So we decided on beer's best friend:
For those of you who don't know, Cook doesn't have a deep fryer in the main kitchen. There's a small one downstairs with two small baskets, but both teams had to feed a lot of people at the same time. As soon as the timer started, Team Gaslight booked it downstairs to take the fryers for themselves. And Team Alla Spina meandered through the kitchen, slowly putting their ingredients together—cool, calm, and collected. Why? Chef Julie Kline now had the whole kitchen to herself, and she was going to be grilling those wings.
Team Alla Spina took their grilled wings, and tossed them in spicy roasted jalapeño, green chorizo, and ramp sauce. I've always felt a wing was lacking something if it had no heat, and these had enough kick to make me grin.
Secret Ingredient #2
Again, it's Beer Week. So we kept things consistent. Home Sweet Homebrew, located right off the corner of 20th and Sansom, is Philadelphia's go-to for any beer nerd's home-brewing needs. We asked them to help us out with some things to throw at our contestants, and they gave us this:
Cascade hops, Pilsner hops, and smoked malt.
After smelling everything, both teams went right to it. And both teams had the same idea. They used the hops like they'd use tea leaves—they steeped 'em.
At this point in the night, Four-Beers-Deep Jason was pouring the guests vodka shot after vodka shot after vodka shot, he had already fallen down Cook's library ladder, Art was taking celeb-photos with the other diners, Lily was yelling at Jason to get out of the way, Jason refused to get out of the way, women on both sides of the room were "woo!ing", the kitchen was rocking and the night turned into an evening of fantastic, fiery, vodka-soaked mayhem.
Team Gaslight poached homemade chicken sausage in pilsner hop tea, laid it out alongside some truffled peas, threw in some cascade hop vinegar, and then made some malt-crusted cornbread gnocchi.
Team Alla Spina kept to the grill with duck breast, laid it alongside some hop malted potatoes, a mushroom trifolate, and a drizzled a hopped arugula pesto around the plate.
Team Gaslight made a fancy chocolated covered pretzel: chocolate ganache, pretzeled couscous, peanut butter caramel and candied orange rinds.
Not only was the competition fierce, but it was close. Insanely close. Both teams cooked their hearts out, but no Open Stove will end in a draw (or at least not without a tie-breaking dance-off). And after the point-count, Team Gaslight came out on top. Fuji, and his FOH sidekick, Collin, were the victors of Open Stove 25. And although it was a night to remember, after Jason's fine work with the crowd, I doubt anybody will.
All Open Stove Coverage [f8b8z]