Philly Cooks 2012: And The Winners Are…


Photo by HughE Dillon | Philly Post

Last night’s Philly Cooks event wasn’t just an excuse for the rich and ritzy to gorge themselves on fine food and booze. I mean, it was that, but it wasn’t only that.

It was also a full-bore, secret-ballot, 25-judge, two-and-a-half-hour cooking competition where many of the city’s best chefs and best restaurants slugged it out for the honor of being named Best Whatever by our panel of experts. There were 40 dishes divided into 4 categories, a hundred-odd cooks slaving away in a less-than-ideal production environment and what seemed to be a never-ending procession of jacketed servers from the Drexel restaurant program bringing dish after dish after dish to our sequestered judging room.

And the results? Four winners to rule over all. And for the first time in years of judging these kinds of competitions, I actually agree with every single one of the picks.

Philly Cooks 2012 Winners:


Best Appetizer: Ela

Chef Jason Cichonski

Whipped Robiola Bosina with shortbtread, preserved kumquat and wild smoked mushrooms

In addition to being the best tasting app of the night, this was also the single best-looking plate and among the most creative entries.


Best Entrée: Valanni

Chef John Strain

Pan-seared Magret duck breast with sweet potato and parsnip mash and coffee-cocoa glaze

The only one of the winners I didn’t get to taste personally (either in the judges room or, later, out on the floor), but I was assured by trusted tasters (read: Art) that this plate was just amazing, and worthy of taking home the big prize.


Best Dessert: Ciao Bella Cakes

Chef Stefanie Kitchner

Gateau (Lemon Cake)

Chocolate. Salt. Caramel. A lovely presentation. Everything about this dish was great, but what put it over the top was the tiny pile of pink Hawaiian sea salt. Since it is difficult to eat salt with a fork (or even to apply it as a seasoning in a dignified manner), most everyone at my table just resorted to dipping a finger in the caramel, rolling it in the salt and chasing everything with a bite of the cake.


Dish of the Year: The Hunt Room at the Desmond

Chef Chris Calhoun

Poached Pacific halibut filet with tomato-orange braised lacinato kale, saffron aioli, pommes alumettes

I had a lot of weak, dull and just flat awful plates served to me during the judging. This was the one that made it all worthwhile–a perfectly balanced plate that was both creative and delicious, using unexpected ingredient pairings (halibut and kale?) and wedded both in terms of flavor and concept. It was a winner all around (hence its award), but the best part of it was the amazing saffron aioli. If I could, I would’ve drunk a Big Gulp of the stuff.

Ela [Official website]
Valanni [Official website]
Ciao Bella Cakes [Official website]
The Hunt Room [Official website]

Philly Cooks Picks Restaurant Faves [Philly Post]