celebrity chef showdown: chef waxman vs. chef santos

 Tomatoes and Chef at the Cadillac Culinary Challenge

It’s been almost exactly a year since I started this blog and if you had told me then that I would get to meet Chef Jonathan Waxman of Barbuto because of Pixelated Crumb, I never would have believed you. When I first heard about the opportunity to be a judge at the Cadillac Culinary Challenge in Dedham, MA I was certainly excited about the idea, but was somewhat reluctant to do it. I have so much respect and admiration for this culinary great who is not only one of the country’s best chefs, but a totally laid back and just generally great guy (I deduced these personality traits from watching Top Chef Masters Seasons 1 and 2 and you know that reality TV never lies). I was hesitant to judge the event because I was convinced that such a job should be left only to the heavy hitters such as Ruth Reichl or Brad Johnson. Joseph talked some sense into me and pointed out that I was over-thinking things and that this would be a fun, laid back event. Besides, when in my life would I ever get to taste and judge Chef Waxman’s food? The next day I was talking to the Cadillac PR rep and signing up to get my critique on.

Tomatoes and Chef at the Cadillac Culinary Challenge

By now you must be wondering who Chef Waxman was up against since clearly he wasn’t competing against himself! Cadillac is doing a series of these challenges in 14 cities pairing a celebrity chef with a local well known, highly regarded chef. Chef Jason Santos, who became a bit of a celebrity chef himself by making it to the finals of Hell’s Kitchen last year, was more than up to the challenge to compete against Chef Waxman. Chef Santos, formally of Gargoyles on the Square, just opened Blue Inc. (named for his blue hair) in the financial district less than two weeks ago and has already gotten rave reviews (actually, I haven’t seen any official reviews yet, but Yelpers sure like it!).

Chef Jonathan Waxman and Thai Eggplants


Cadillac Culinary Challenge Mary Nolan

I was joined by Hillary Davis of Marche Dimanche and Brian Knowles of The Gringo Chapin on a sweltering hot day as MC Mary Nolan from the Food Network got the show on the road. Chef Waxman prepared a squash ragout with merguez sausage and Chef Santos made a Greek salad dish with lamb (recipes below!). The standout in Chef Waxman’s dish was certainly the merguez sausage which the entire crowd seemed to love, while my favorite part of Chef Santos’ dish was the olive yogurt drizzled on top of the perfectly cooked lamb. The olive yogurt was so unexpected and while I have to admit I was a little wary of the idea, I absolutely loved it. Even though it certainly tasted of olives, it wasn’t nearly as briney and with the cool creaminess of the greek yogurt and the brightness of the lemon juice, it was a really nice, novel, and refreshing food experience.

Chef Jonathan Waxman Showing his Knife Skills

Food Bloggers

Grilled Lamb with Greek-Style Summer Squash & Tomato Salad Served with Black Olive Yogurt

Chef Jonathan Waxman and his Squash Ragout with Spicy Merguez, Eggplant, Tomato,  Zucchini, Onions, Peppers, and Gruyere Cheese

So even though I went in (and left) completely idolizing Chef Waxman, I had to stay true to my taste buds and vote for Chef Santos. It was such a hot, sticky day and the cool, crisp salad with that lamb and olive yogurt just couldn’t be beat. In fact, we were so excited about it that after the challenge we headed straight to the Whole Foods to pick up the ingredients and went home and made it for dinner. It truly is the perfect summer meal and I can’t wait to go try Blue Inc. and see how Chef Santos does in the comfort of his own (air conditioned!) kitchen. I recommend checking to see if the Cadillac Culinary Challenge is coming to a city near you, because this was some seriously delicious food and it was great to meet one of my culinary heroes and a very talented local chef who hadn’t even been on my radar before this event. You can also test drive some cars if that’s your thing.

The good news is that while Chef Santos won the judges’ vote in the competition, Chef Waxman won the audience vote. Everyone wins! I couldn’t have been more relieved because hey, it’s Jonathan Waxman, and you know what? He’s every bit as nice as I thought he would be!

Chef Jonathan Waxman and Pixelated Crumb

Chef Jason Santos and Pixelated Crumb

Grilled Lamb with Greek-Style Summer Squash & Tomato Salad Served with Black Olive Yogurt

From Chef Jason Santos

Ingredients

For the salad:

  • Four 4 oz lamb loins
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 summer squash (medium diced)
  • 6 cups assorted tomatoes, cut into wedges
  • 1/2 cucumber, seeded and sliced
  • 1/2 cup pepperoncini, sliced
  • 1 small red onion, julienned
  • 1 cup crumbled feta
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tbsp dried oregano

For the yogurt:

  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp black olive puree
  • Salt and pepper

Instructions

For the salad:

  1. Season lamb with salt and pepper and pan sear/grill until medium rare.
  2. Combine remaining ingredients and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Slice lamb and serve over salad. Top with black olive yogurt.

For the yogurt:

  1. Toast garlic in olive oil.
  2. Mix the toasted garlic with the yogurt, lemon juice, and black olive puree.
  3. Season with salt and pepper.

Number of servings (yield): 4

 

Squash Ragout with Spicy Merguez, Eggplant, Tomato, Zucchini, Onions, Peppers, and Gruyere Cheese

From Chef Jonathan Waxman

Ingredients

For the ragout:

  • 1/4 cup good extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb fresh merguez sausage
  • 1 head of fresh garlic
  • 1 lb baby eggplant
  • 1 lb baby zucchini
  • 2 sweet onions
  • 2 bell peppers
  • 1 lb heirloom beefsteak tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup grated Gruyere
  • 1/4 cup pesto (see below)

For the pesto:

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 4 cups fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 1/2 cups olive oil

Instructions

For the ragout:

  1. Dice the sausage.
  2. Peel the garlic and mince 3 cloves; leave 6 whole without skin.
  3. Dice the eggplant and zucchini. Peel and dice onions. Chop the bell peppers. Dice the tomatoes.
  4. In a large skillet, saute the sausage with garlic in olive oil. When brown, remove and add the eggplant. When that’s brown, remove and add the zucchini, onions, and peppers. When they are brown, add back the eggplant and sausage.
  5. Toss with pesto and tomatoes and add the cheese. Serve hot!

For the pesto:

  1. In a food processor, combine the garlic, pine nuts, basil, and Parmesan. Blend, then drizzle in olive oil to desired thickness.

Number of servings (yield): 4

Disclaimer: I was not monetarily compensated to judge the event and was not required to write a post. All opinions expressed above are my own.
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