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Edmonton Food Fight proves our city enjoys a little competition

// Pilar Ramírez
// Pilar Ramírez

Selling out in seven minutes: not a lot of events around town can claim that kind of hype.

The third instalment of Edmonton Food Fight, a homegrown chef competition created by Kathryn Joel of Get Cooking and local activist Mike Hudema, sold out seven minutes after tickets went on sale. The first and second fights also sold out quickly. Clearly, Edmonton has a taste for watching our local chefs go head-to-head.

“It seems to have really caught an appetite in Edmonton,” Joel says. “There’s such a fervour for chef competitions on TV, with things like Chopped Canada; there’s a natural audience for that. We also have this growing food scene here, so I think the excitement that TV creates, combined with the interest people have locally for our local chefs, and the ability to see them cooking randomly live, generates quite a bit of excitement.”

Edmonton Food Fights are loosely based on the Knife Fights television show, but with a local flair. Two of our city’s chefs face off in Joel’s Get Cooking kitchen, where they have one hour to prepare at least two dishes with three mystery ingredients, sourced from local suppliers. A set of three judges, comprised of a local chef, food media personality and local celebrity, determine the winner. The first competition, which ran in February and saw Brayden Kozak of Three Boars trump Shane Chartrand of Sage Restaurant, used lamb heart, cod tongue and Jerusalem artichokes. In the second Fight, Alexei Boldireff of S’wich Food Truck took the win over Spencer Thompson of Toast Fine Catering with lamb testicles, fiddlehead ferns and jumbo squid. Joel is still figuring out what she’ll throw at the third pair of competitors in Food Fight’s first themed fight—Battle Food Truck—which will pit Dean Gossen of Bully Food Truck against Mark Bellows of the Local Omnivore.

Although there’s only been two Food Fights so far, Joel notes that they made quite a number of improvements from the first one, aided in large part by constructive criticism provided by local food blogger Cindy Nguyen (of Let’s Om Nom): they added a webcam so that the crowd could see everything going on in the kitchen, adjusted the volume level of the emcee (Mike Chalut from 91.7 the Bounce), and ran the finished plates through the crowd after the judges had tasted so that people could have a bite of the dishes if they chose. (Each chef also creates a bunch of canapés before the competition to give the audience a taste of their culinary style.) It’s quite a party atmosphere, Joel notes.

But the real question for these fights: are Edmonton chefs as cutthroat as the ones on TV, à la Gordon Ramsay and Anthony Bourdain?

“Not really; we’re trying to be pretty chill about it,” Joel says with a chuckle. “I’m not a competitive person, and I’m not really encouraging huge competition; we want it to be fun and lighthearted. But most of the chefs I know are all Type A personalities, and they are pretty competitive naturally. We’re trying to downplay that and keep it really fun. I want them to like each other at the end of the night! Personally, I don’t love the idea that somebody has to win and somebody has to lose, but there you go.”

Given the intense demand for a spot to witness these chef battles, Joel has considered increasing their frequency, though that’s not confirmed—it takes a lot of time and coordination to put them together. Currently they run every couple of months; the third is on June 8 (sold out) and the one after that will be in August. Joel is also working on the possibility of hosting a fight in a bigger venue, possibly in conjunction with a food event like Taste of Edmonton. Any chefs who are interested in competing can contact Joel.

For now the Food Fights will continue to run every two months. Those eager to attend will simply have to treat it like a major music concert: be online right when tickets go on sale. (Follow their Facebook page and Twitter feed for updates.)

“There’s some amazing chefs working in Edmonton right now,” Joel says. “I have a lot of chefs teaching classes in my space who have been away travelling, and have come back. I want to see them stay here, so I’ll do my piece to try and make that happen.”

Edmonton Food Fight

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