WBEZ, hosts a competition among a group of chefs and invites the public as a fundraiser. In the competitions, they would challenge the chefs with an ingredient that they would all have to work with. In past years, they have invited savory chefs and had them work with beer. This year, the chefs they invited were all pastry chefs and they were challenged to create a dessert with tea. The five chefs invited were also to create a regular and gluten-free dish, although the dish that some chefs made as their main dish was gluten-free. The chefs were divided into two conference rooms and a demonstration kitchen. The first chef I tried was Dinah Grossman of Cheap Tart who made a Masala Chai Creme Brulee Tart with Salty Chocolate and Raspberries garnished with Nasturtium Petals. The thing about public cooking competitions or demos is that the presentations of the dishes frequently suffer. In Dinah Grossman's case, other than the plates and utensils, these dishes looked very nice. The tart had a nice crust and the chai added a spicy and creamy flavor to the tart and the chocolate and raspberries added bittersweet, salt, and tart flavors.
For her gluten free dish, she made a Roasted Kabocha Mousse with Matcha Cheesecake and Coconut Tuile. I really liked this. The mousse was creamy and the tea and cheesecake flavors went together well. The Coconut Tuile added a sweet coconut crunch to the dish.
The next competitor whose stuff that I tried was Jonathan Ory from Bad Wolf Coffee. While I did try both of his dishes, I seem only to have taken a picture of one. He prepared a Persimmon Chai Salambo (a filled pastry similar to a long john) and an Earl Gray Panna Cotta topped with Granola. While his dishes weren't bad, the tea flavor was at the forefront and kind of overwhelmed everything else.
In the next conference room they had Dana Cree who is the Pastry Chef at Blackbird She only made one dish which was gluten-free and very creative in any case. It was a Hong Kong Milk Tea with Kulfi, Pear, and Elderflowers. The dish was kind of odd. It was like a clear plastic version of a dish you might see at a fine dining restaurant (which Blackbird is). The milk tea kind of reminded me of a less spicy chai tea. Kulfi is a frozen dairy dessert similar to ice cream but denser that is popular in India. The elderflowers added a floral element to the dish and while the pear flavor went well with the rest of the dish, I don't like the texture of pears so this kind of failed.
Moto and the late Baume & Brix. Both of these restaurants are/were very creative and whimsical and before even seeing what he was presenting, I was kind of expecting some off the wall flavors and ideas (if not presentations because of the lack of facilities and time). For the first course, he presented a dish called White Dog Gelato (a spin on the name of one of his competitors establishments, Black Dog Gelato). The only thing that I really remember about this dish was that the tea was in the gelato, it was surrounded with dried corn and sprinkled with chocolate chips. I remember that it wasn't bad but really nothing to write home about and was completely overshadowed by his other dish, Bubblegum, 1969.
The dish was the whimsical creativity that I would expect from Ben Roche. It started with Banana Parmesan Gelato sprinkled with Powdered Bubble Gum and with Bubble Gum Paper and with a side of Bubble Gum Tea. I liked the flavors around the gelato and even with the tea but I found the tea bottle a little annoying because you could only get a couple of drops at a time.
After I had tried Ben Roche's creations, I decided to brave the crowds and try what by crowd, looked to be the most popular station, Jessica Oloroso from Black Dog Gelato. I will say up front that I had somehow saved the best for last. Her dishes were my favorite although I can't say which I liked more. The first I tried was the Pumpkin Chai Brioche Sandwich with Nutella. It was very good with all of the flavors coming through and playing well with one another. The brioche bun was a bonus and it was very easy to eat.
The other dish didn't look quite as composed but it was still very good. It was an Earl Gray Sundae with Chocolate Earl Gray Gelato, Figs, and Bruleed Whipped Cream. The Earl Gray Tea tied the chocolate and the figs together and the bruleed whipped cream reminded me of fired marshmallows.
I really enjoyed this version of the Chicago Chef Battle. I got to try a lot of good and interesting things and support a good cause at a good price. I will definitely be back next year to try new things, support WBEZ and vote for my favorite.