Citywide 86’d had its early beginnings in the kitchen of Uchi, where they challenged each other to create dishes using surprise ingredients in an in-house competition. Eventually, members of the Uchi family grew to enjoy the competition so much, they decided to reach out to other kitchens, asking them to join in on their “Chopped” style cooking competition. As the interest in the competition grew, Citywide 86’d was born.
Each year, restaurants throughout Austin enter a drawing to see who will participate in each of the four preliminary competitions. In each of the preliminary rounds, contestants must prepare an appetizer, entrée, and dessert using whatever surprise ingredients are presented to them in a basket at the beginning of each round; which last for 20, 25, and 20 minutes, respectively.
Contestants must prepare an appetizer, entrée, and dessert using surprise ingredients.
The four preliminary rounds will produce one winner, and the winner from each of the aforementioned rounds will then go on to compete in the championship round, which will take place on June seventeenth.
The first round of competition for this year’s Citywide 86’d took place this past Saturday, February eighth (at The Escoffier School of Culinary Arts), with contestants Fernando Camacho (Parkside), Jessica Rupert (Qui), Lauren Ortiz (Uchi), and Michael Walston (Trace).
The judges – Camille Styles (camillestyles.com), Glen Foore (Springdale Farm), Pat Sharpe (Texas Monthly), and Kyle McKinney (Barley Swine) – gathered around the competitor’s tables as everyone eagerly awaited the final countdown to the 10 a.m. competition.
ground goat, fennel, chicharróns, and duck egg.
As Chef Philip Speer signaled the beginning of the competition, the chefs grabbed their bags for the appetizer round – consisting of ground goat, fennel, chicharróns, and duck egg. The twenty minutes in the first round flew by as quickly as one might imagine they would, but each of the chefs maintained a relatively cool demeanor.
When the first round’s twenty minutes were up, all chefs had finished plating, and were ready to take their dishes to the judges.
The ingredients in the first round provided the judges with a rather difficult task of deliberation, but after the cards were tallied, Chef Speer announced Uchi, Qui, and Parkside would be continuing on to the entrée round – giving the remaining competing chefs a sense of relief, if only momentarily.
Striped bass, licorice, SpaghettiOs, and turnips.
In the second round, each of the chefs were met by a basket of striped bass, licorice, SpaghettiOs, and turnips. Uchi’s resident pastry chef, Lauren, had never broken down a fish prior to this day, which left many concerned about the challenges she might face as she prepared her entrée.
Even with the odd assortment of ingredients, the chefs managed to prepare dishes that left the judges jokingly stating they may begin using SpaghettiOs as a base for a puréed sauce in the future – just as so many of the contestants did so skillfully. Though each of the competitors made it through this challenge preparing dishes that reflected their creativity, talent, and flexibility with a wide array of ingredients, only chefs from Parkside and Uchi continued on to the final round; dessert.
The third and final round offered an aged gin, kara kara oranges, pecans, puffed cheese curds, and shredded wheat cereal. As the competitors began executing their dishes, the kitchen filled with the scent of cinnamon, and a warm heat from the ovens and fryer. Dry ice billowed over the sides of bowls as the chefs completed their plating, and made their way to the judges table.
Aged gin, kara kara oranges, pecans, puffed cheese curds, and shredded wheat cereal.
This time, each of the competing chefs prepared their dishes by employing entirely different methods; a fresh take on a fritter from Fernando of Parkside, and a black pepper and kara kara orange sorbet with a warm shredded wheat and pecan crumble from Lauren of Uchi.
The third round of judging was tense, but Lauren Ortiz of Uchi was declared the winner.
After receiving many congratulatory hugs and affirmative statements from Uchi team members, family, friends, and audience members alike, we spoke with Lauren, asking her what the experience was like as a whole. With a smile, Lauren said,
“I wasn’t super nervous because I kind of knew what it felt like to be under a time constraint, because they often have in-house competitions at Uchi formatted similarly to Citywide 86’d.”
Despite her confidence in this first round, Lauren admits she is nervous about participating in June’s championship round of Citywide 86’d adding, “I’ll be competing against the best of the best.”
In the months ahead, three more preliminary rounds will take place – with Round Two taking place March 2nd.
Round Two – March 2nd
Olive and June
Follow more of Citywide 86’d competition at their official website. Or stay tuned in here at Citygram Austin for our continued coverage.
Photography: Hilary Pearson