If we are wise, we seek out opportunities to bear witness to the beautiful things that people do when they do the thing they are best at. When an idea like 505 Food Fights comes along, something almost astonishing in its simplicity, the much sought after opportunity to bear witness resounds as clear as a church bell in the frigid dawn.
The brain-child of David Ruiz, sous chef at Santa Ana Star Casino, with help from Stacy Wilson of Just the Best, a local produce company and Mike Perseo, corporate chef of The Range, Standard Diner, and the forthcoming Freight House, the set-up is both spartan and soigné: A cooking competition where three mystery ingredients are prepared by two of New Mexico's most talented chefs for one great cause. And one helluva good time. I should know; I was invited to judge Round 5.
On the night in question, the competing chefs were announced, boxing-
On the fight card were Colin Shane of Arroyo Vino in Santa Fe and Tony Saccocia from Indigo Crow in Corrales. My esteemed other judges were Avery Pearson from Vinaigrette in Santa Fe and Mike Giese (New Mexico Restaurant Association’s Chef of the Year 2015) from Pueblo Harvest—who had already put in some serious work preparing a grip of tasty appetizers for folks to nibble on as they had a drink and watched the chefs cook.
On the fight card were Colin Shane of Arroyo Vino in Santa Fe and Tony Saccocia from Indigo Crow in Corrales.
Stacy Wilson was kind and patient enough to field my questions with charm and there was a real sense of community at the heart of this so-called competition. I found nothing pretentious or off-putting, despite these tremendously talented folks having the absolute goods in the kitchen. These were the four dishes I had to judge: 1) grilled corbina sea bass, over an olive gribiche made with quail eggs, and dressed with sunflower petals; 2) seared rack of lamb atop a roasted garlic wheatberry risotto and a green chile and candy-stripped fig chutney; 3) green salad with candy-stripped figs, smoked tomatoes, mozzarella ice cream, blueberry balsamic dressing; 4) and pan-seared corbina, toasted cous cous, Swiss chard, pine nuts, golden raisins in a smoked beurre blanc, topped with a marinated Mediterranean olive tapenade.
I ask you, how ya gonna beat that? As a way to raise a few more bucks in addition to the $10 spectator’s fee, the organizers auction off one seat with the judges (the winner tries all four plates) and they also auction off one of each plate (if one really jumps out at you). Every penny raised goes to the evening’s local charity. Past organizations have included the Children’s Grief Center and Animal Humane Society of NM. The Roadrunner Food Bank was the beneficiary the night I judged. There’s a new “fight” every 21 days, each time at a different restaurant with the winner moving on to the next round.
And the grand prize? Bragging rights. Oh, and maybe a goodie basket—that’s it.
Art—and make no mistake, you’ll instantly understand why it’s called the culinary arts—is why we go to museums, movies, and why we read books. We watch sports and competitions because we want to see what the best looks like and see how far we have to go to achieve it ourselves. So if you love great food, if you’re curious about the local chef scene, if you’re looking for a great way to spend a night that benefits your community or even just want to swipe a few chef tricks to try at home, I heartily recommend 505 Food Fights.
The next Food Fight is Thursday Nov. 5, at 5pm at Vintage 423 (8000 Paseo del Norte NE) to benefit the family of fallen APD officer Daniel Webster. Tickets will be $10. I’ll ask again: How ya gonna beat that?