Ultimate Chef Bergen County 2010: Battle Pignoli

That’s right folks. It’s time again for your favorite culinary battle competition, Ultimate Chef Bergen County, sponsored by Chef Central in Paramus, New Jersey. For the second round,  Chef Adam Weiss of Esty Street in Park Ridge went up against  Chef Ike Koutrakous of Cooking in Your Kitchen.

This fight was a doozy, resulting in the closest competition that Chef Central had ever had to judge. Let’s get to it!

Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

The secret ingredient was Pignoli, or pine nuts. Pine nuts are the edible seeds of pine trees. In Italy, where it it most commonly used, the seeds come from Stone Pine trees. In Asian cuisine, such as in Korean and Chinese food, the Korean Pine and the Chinese White Pine is used, among various others in the region.

Chef Ike Koutrakous, of “Cooking in Your Kitchen”.

Chef Adam Weiss of Esty Street Restaurant.

Wine and stock reduction in the foreground cooking on Chef Koutrakous’s station, with lamb tenderloins searing in the background.

Lamb tenderloins resting.

Pears sauteeing at Chef Koutrakous’s station.

Esty Street’s sous chef pulses up some Pignoli in the Vita-Mix.

Monkfish cooking up at Esty Street’s station.

Mise en Place for Esty Street’s main course sauce.

These look like slices of cheesecake, but they are actually large pieces of Brie that have been breaded and coated with a pignoli crust.

Esty Street pulsing up basil for their main course sauce.

Chef Koutrakous works his mandoline for an Artichoke salad.

Esty Street’s brie slices exit the deep fryer.

Gnocchi for Esty Street’s pasta course.

Chef Weiss tastes his first course sauce.

Esty Street’s first course, deep fried Brie Cheese coated with Pignoli Crust

Chef Koutrakous’ first course, a Salsify and Pignoli Nut Soup.

Chef Weiss works his Gnocchi.

Koutrakous butter-bastes his diver scallops.

Esty Street’s Gnocchi.

Koutrakous’ mise-en-place for his second course, Diver Scallops with Artichoke Salad.

Koutrakous plates his second course.

Plating close-up

Koutrkous’s second course, seared diver scallop with artichoke/feta cheese salad with pignoli sauce.

Esty Street’s second course, Gnocchi with wild mushrooms, pignoli nuts and parmigiano-reggiano cheese.

Bacon at Koutrakous’s station.

Koutrakous incorporates the bacon into his farro side dish for his main course.

Koutrakous plates his main course.

Seared Lamb Ternderloin over a Farro/Pignoli mixture with a wine reduction and caper berries.

Koutrakous’s main course closeup.

Esty Street’s main course, a monkfish over Saffron Israeli Couscous with a pignoli gremolata sauce.

The judges eat the main course. From left to right, CMC Tom Griffiths from the Culinary Institute of America, Food Editor Susan Leigh Sherril of 201 Magazine, and Culinary Education director for Northern Valley Regional High School in Demerest, Alexis Goebel.

Esty Street works on its dessert plating.

Koutrakous works on his dessert.

Koutrakous’ dessert, a pignoli cake with sauteed pears and a pignoli creme anglaise.

Esty Street’s dessert, a Lemon Custard with a traditional Italian Pignoli Cookie.

Who’s cuisine reigned supreme? It was a near tie between Esty’s Adam Weiss and Koutrakous, with a difference of 12 points on a 1400 point scale with Chef Ike Koutrakous edging out for the win. However, because this was such a close competition, Adam Weiss is being invited back for another round, facing Chef Jesse Jones for yet another elimination, with the winner of that round competing against Chef Ike, for the chance to go onto the final round to face Chef Christine Nunn, last year’s champion.

I’ve had a few days to think about this result. Frankly, I don’t agree with it. The chefs provide all their own ingredients. They spend their money and time preparing and practicing for this event. Another round adds additional expenses for Chef Jesse, who now has to compete yet again for the chance to cook in the semi-finals. Let’s say Chef Adam wins this round, if he is successful in his rematch with Chef Ike, won’t they really be tied 1-1? I appreciate Chef Adam’s talent, but isn’t this a bit like the Jets getting a do-over?

Well, that’s my two cents. I’ll be there to cover it, I love to bring everyone who can’t attend in person a visual taste of Bergen County’s finest chefs. I just wish it weren’t with a bitter aftertaste.

7 Responses to Ultimate Chef Bergen County 2010: Battle Pignoli

  1. Julia Enerson says:

    Wow, change the rules midstream? How unfair is that? If I was Jesse Jones, I’d be very unhappy right now.

  2. mgreco73 says:


    Thanks for posting this summary of Saturday’s Ultimate Chef event at Chef Central, along with amazing photos of these two chefs and their dishes. I was there as a guest this past weekend and was thoroughly impressed! It was great to see the chefs in action and then get a taste of their culinary creations …

    Yet in reading the ending of your review when you announce the winner, I noticed that you got the key fact incorrect: while the contest was indeed close, it was Chef Ike Koutrakos of cookinginyourkitchen.com who won by 12 points – not Adam Weiss of Esty Street. So your blog accurately reflects the result and is correct leading into the next week of competition, I’d recommend that you fix it.

    Thanks again for your attention to and recap of this great event!

  3. Lisa Uvanni says:

    Good Morning –
    Nothing like the pot calling the kettle black. What ever happened to YOUR slight mistake calling Mr, Weiss the winner?? Now that you have had a few days, I guess YOU are entitled to a do over???
    Mr. Weiss is a talented and creative chef. If the judges had decied to declare Ike the winner Mr. Weiss would have handled it like he does everything in life – professionally and with grace. The judges decided to add to Mr. Weiss’s already busy schedule and expense to have him come back. No one asked them to make that ruling. Shame on YOU for YOUR do over.

  4. Lisa:

    Normally I do not allow permit this sort of thing to stand but I’m going to address this directly because I think it is important.

    1) I was confused as to the outcome and in my discussions with various parties involved in the event, I wanted to allow some dust to settle and find out how it was going to be handled before I re-posted the material. I was also pumped up with antibiotics at the time I covered and wrote about the event and issued the first version of the post, so I wasn’t exactly at my best. Yes, I made a mistake as to who the “Winner” was, but I corrected it. Correcting an article is not a “Do-Over”. Magazines and Newspapers and other professional print media issue retractions or corrections all the time. I don’t ever claim to be a professional but I feel that I should try to behave as one. Issuing a correction is the appropriate thing to do and its something as a general practice I do as needed particulary if someone alerts me to a mistake.

    2) I am not challenging Chef Weiss’ talent. Chef Weiss is extremely talented and creative. However, I suspect that had he been given time to consider the situation rather than be pressured at the spur of the moment to accept the Chef Central decision to have him “do over” he may very well have accepted his loss and conceded the win to Koutrakous instead, and I think that would have been the correct thing for him to do. The bottom line is the rules were changed by Chef Central last minute and it invalidates the competition and reduces it to a pure promotion event.

    3) The Judges declared Ike the winner, PERIOD. It does not matter how close a win it was. It was NOT their decision to have a “Do Over”. I know this from first-hand speaking to the people involved and familiar with the situation. It was entirely at the discretion of Chef Central and is a decision that only benefits Chef Central. Having some familiarity with the situation and what prior competitors needed to do for prior events, I am aware that it is a SIGNIFICANT cost investment to attend a round of these competitions and requires a LOT of time to practice. Asking for a “Do over” is both asking Chef Jesse and Chef Adam to incur additional costs, which is several hundred dollars of raw food materials per round plus all the prep time needed to create yet more dishes for another round. Additionally by shifting the schedule on Chef Christine Nunn without consulting her, it did not take into account that she may have had OTHER commitments the weekend they moved her final round to, which I think is truly an abysmal thing to do. What if she was on vacation or had catering obligations? Did they think of that? No. Her date on February 27 was set for a reason, as to not to conflict with any other obligations. That she is able to fit with the new schedule is fine and good, but what if she couldn’t?

  5. Rachel Perlow says:

    We have received several emails regarding correcting the winner as posted, so I wanted to write regarding the timeline of this post.

    I noticed, about 12 hours after Jason posted it, that the winner was incorrectly written. Jason had left for a job assignment in Florida by that point. So, I corrected it. A couple hours later, we decided to remove the post from public view, as there was a lot of discussions going on behind the scenes as to whether the additional round would take place. We wanted a final decision to be made before letting the post stand. On Sunday evening, the 24th, Jason sent an email to Chef Central, expressing his concerns.

    During this time, another NJ blogger wrote about the controversy. When doing so, he twittered a link to the article that had been taken down. Because he couldn’t see the article on our site, he posted a google-cached version of the original, uncorrected, post, as the corrected version was not live long enough for it to have been cached. When this occurred, we got several emails from readers, correcting the post, which had already been fixed.

    Once it was firmly established that the additional round would occur, and that the chefs would all participate (there was some discussion of dropping out in protest), we reposted the article, with the additional commentary in the concluding paragraphs. This was approximately 48 hours (2 full business days) after sending the email, to which he has never received a reply.

    Please keep in mind that this blog is not unbiased journalism. Jason frequently posts his opinions on the subjects about which he writes: technology or food, restaurants or contests.

  6. Soulcooker says:

    The real tragedy is that if there is a closer score in a future round there is no way that Chef Central will schedule another “do over’ round, so that loser will just get screwed! (As did Chef Jesse’s opponent.) What is Chef Central thinking? If Chef Jesse loses, its going to look like they created an additional round just to get him eliminated, so they could get a more “desirable” match up in the finals. If he wins, he’ll have had to work twice as hard as Chef Ike to get to the same point, stretching his time and financial resources. (Unfortunately for Chef Ike, he’ll also have another week of “practice”, which will make him more dangerous.) People that are more reactionary than myself would refer to such a result as racist. I don’t give the folks at Chef Central that much credit. That would almost make them clever. It would be nice to say that this level of stupidity was uncommon, but alas, it is not. At the very least Chef Central should pay for Chef jesse’s food and supplies in order to compensate for his extra effort. Jason, thanks, for keeping us up to speed on this event, as unfair as it may have become. And oh yeah, Cook Jesse Cook.

  7. Joe Renelli says:

    I’m not sure that I understand….

    Does this mean that Chef John Marsh of Green Door Cafe in Tenafly will be having an elimination round with Chef Ike Koutrakous of Cooking in Your Kitchen?

    If not, how can this be fair?

    Chef Jesse should not agree to a forced challenge with the loser of this second round unless the winner of the second round agrees to a challenge with the loser of the first round.

    I am sure that some of these chefs have deep pockets backing them, while others could be struggling during this terrible economy. Making them pay out of pocket for an extra round is just plain wrong.

    Perhaps we should all boycott the sponsor of the event if they are the ones who are changing the rules?

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: