Open Stove XL: A Candy-Rific Whiskey-Drinking Halloween Spectacular

Look at ’em. They look so happy. So calm. So unaware of what’s coming…

Last week, we celebrated our 40th Open Stove night at COOK. It happened a few days before Halloween, so you can probably guess where our inspiration came from. There were physical challenges, tests of strength and will, a trivia contest, secret ingredients, another trivia contest, some dancing. If you were there, you know exactly how much damage can be done to the spirits and confidence of a chef with nothing more than some candy corn and a roll of duct tape.

And if you weren’t, let me tell you how it all went down when we brought Jaehee Cho of Parc and Elaine Gardner of Zahav into our culinary Thunderdome and told them we had a few surprises in store for them.

It started off very simply, with an amuse bouche from each side. Empanadas from Team Zahav were a good way to start. The tartare from Team Parc lent the whole affair a classy tone.

Which was when I decided to take the sous chefs from both teams and duct tape them together. Like Dr. Frankenstein building his creature out of pieces gathered from many bodies, I attempted to make one Franken-sous by sticking two talented cooks together. It was hilarious, right up until…

…it occurred to them that they could thwart my evil plans by simply moving all their gear to the center of the kitchen and working side-by-side while their chefs panicked (just a little) at either end.

As you can see in the above photo, we also gave them Halloween candy as a secret ingredient–forcing them to cook with Kit Kats and candy corn, along with caramels, fresh apples and pumpkin puree. With each new challenge, the two teams adapted–working the ingredients into the dishes shown below–scallop crudo with bacon jam, lobster salad with yellow Skittles garnish, tenderloin over spiced pumpkin puree, apple slaw and candy corn sauce.

Before the end of the night, I would also make both chefs play Edward Tong-Hands (in which I taped tongs and chef knives to their hands for one entire round) and answer ridiculous trivia questions about candy and Halloween traditions. And all the while, they were expected to continue cooking and turning out beautiful plates that the crowd loved (though, granted, they were drinking pretty heavily).

By the time all was said and done, Elaine Gardner and Team Zahav won the night–working through all our challenges and coming out the other side shaken but still standing. It was close. The crowd was split nearly right down the middle when it came to choosing one candy corn sauce over another. But in the end, only one team can emerge victorious.

Even though, really, with the amount of food, booze and zombie trivia questions, aren’t we all truly winners?

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