Uchi’s “Citywide 86’d” Third Round of Competition took place April 24th at Uchiko at 4200 Lamar on April 24th. According to Philip Speer, Uchiko’s Director of Culinary Operations, the restaurant hosted the competition as a friendly cameraderie between the chefs as a way for them to network and have fun. Ironically, Speer’s motto is “it ain’t food until someone eats it,” and this competition was a contest with seemingly incompatible “secret” ingredients, which the judges ultimately had to eat – even though one of the ingredients (in the appetizer round) was tree fungus known as kikurage in Japan. Who knew “hairy wood ear” could be so delish when fried?

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The premise to the competition is a basket of ingredients and a timed competition with a judging panel of culinary experts who score the final dishes, much like the Food Network’s “Chopped.” The contest is divided into three rounds each with elimination: “Appetizer”, “Entrée”, and “Dessert”. In each round, the chefs are given a bag containing four ingredients, and the dish each competitor prepares must contain all of those ingredients. The challenge is … these four ingredients are not commonly prepared together.

Joaquin Ceballas of Sway

Joaquin Ceballas of Sway

In 2008, the competition started as an internal rivalry between Uchi and Uchiko in Austin and Uchi in Houston. In 2013 the competition expanded to include friendly competition outside of the Uchi chain. The four competitors for the expanded competition were Corey Macks from Parkside, Dan Gamoran from La Condesa, Coliman Uribe from Swift’s Attic, and Joaquin Ceballas of Sway. The final round came down to Joaquin Ceballas and Dan Comoran, of Sway and La Condesa, respectively. Jesse Herman, who happens to own both of those restaurants, was on hand to exhort his team to compete against each other and themselves as the clock ticked. The ultimate winner was Sway’s Joaquin Ceballas, whose confident air was apparent from the beginning.

The judges were entrepreneur Jennie Chen of Misohungrynow.com, Paula Disbrowe, Southern Living Senior Travel Editor and James Beard Award winning cookbook author, Jeramie Robison, Chef de Cuisine of Uchi Austin, and Elizabeth Winslow, Farmhouse Delivery and Haymakers Founder.  The final round will take place May 18th, and the winners of all four rounds will compete in the finale June 15th.

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