About Last Night: Hop Chef

Last night I was lucky enough to judge Ommegang’s Hop Chef competition at World Cafe Live. Six excellent local chefs put their best foot forward to compete for the right to represent Philadelphia in the Hop Chef finals at Brewery Ommegang’s annual Belgium Comes to Cooperstown festival. In the end it was Stateside’s George Sabatino who won with his two dishes, the first was a lettuce wrap of smoked beef cheek with watermelon rind, pickle and beer broiled peanuts; the second was a dessert Sabatino made with the help of his pastry chef, Robert Toland. The “Three Philosophers with head to tail cherries” ingeniously included pop rocks to mimic the carbonation of the beer. Both were impressive dishes, especially how Sabatino lightened the heavy beef and beer with watermelon and the lettuce wrap.

Nic Elmi of Rittenhouse Tavern was the runner up with hamachi crudo with sea urchin and a dessert of a cherry tart wwith vanilla, fromage blanc, pistachio and sweet lardo. Elmi even provided the judges with a full page description of the dishes. The People’s Choice went to the sef-titled People’s Champ, Scott Schroeder of SPTR and American Sardine Bar. Schroeder competed with a blue fin crudo and a hot roast beef sandwich with foie gras he named for Elmi. Judges included Jennifer Carroll, Mat Falco from Philly Beer Scene, Drew Lazor repping Saveur, Emilio Mignucci of DiBruno Bros. and yours truly. Here’s George Sabatino describing his dishes for the judges. Adding the pop rocks to Stateside’s dessert. Nick Elmi’s hamachi crudo with sea urchin Ommegang brought all their beers to the event, providing guests, chefs and judges with plenty to drink.

Jason Cichonski plating his dishes which included a creative liquid corn diver scallop with chantrelle mushroom, crunchy mustard and pickled corn, as well as an aged cheddar panna cotta with sour cherry chocolate and candied rye. Joe Cicala of Le Virtu did a headcheese ravioli that was at once consistent with his cooking style and an excellent example of using beer in cooking, something that isn’t typically on the menu at the East Passyunk restaurant. The camaraderie and ball-breaking was evident in the run-up via Twitter and again last night at the event. It was six chefs really showing what they can do. I cannot wait for next year.

Photos by Yoni Nimroad of Cook