Bad to the Bone was exactly that! On Saturday night at Stubbs, instead of the usually stellar rock stars on stage, chefs took over the place for the evening for an Iron Chef style competition benefiting the Sustainable Food Center. Each of the chefs got to choose a mystery ingredient which they all had to incorporate into their dish. The mystery ingredients were tangerine, goats milk, and achiote, a traditionally Latin spice also known as annatto that has a sweet and slightly peppery taste.
I was thrilled to be able to attend because I am fans of all three of the competitors and consider them some of the top chefs in Texas. Each has worked in the Austin area but only Shawn Cirkiel currently has a local restaurant, parkside, in the heart of downtown on 6th. Recently named one of the Hot ten New American taverns by Bon Appetit magazine, parkside does upscale casual in a uniquely Austin way. Shawn brought the gold home to Austin and captured the winning votes from both the crowd and the judges with a creamy and tangy goat milk sorbet served alongside an achiote and tangerine fritter which closely resembled the famous donut holes served at the restaurant.
David Bull, following an announcement the day before that he plans to return to Austin in the fall with two new restaurants at the Austonian, did an achiote glazed salmon with smoked bacon grits, goat cheese crema, and tangerine spinach salad. Salmon is tough to keep at the right temperature without drying it out like you must do for a large crowd. I did like the flavors and remember fondly a fabulous dinner at the Driskill that will have me as one of the first in line when he fires up the grill in Austin again.
Paul Petersen had a restaurant in Buda called Little Texas Bistro that was the subject of rave reviews. I put off driving all the way out there for dinner and missed my opportunity to say I knew Paul then. He packed off to win even greater praise and national attention as the executive chef at the Gage Hotel in Marathon, TX. I finally had the opportunity to sample Paul’s cooking at one of his classes at Central Market. His rock star style of teaching and cooking was as entertaining as his food was fresh and exciting. The class was filled with rabid fans from Little Texas and I could see why. At the Smackdown, Paul served annatto crusted pork loin with goat’s milk corn pudding and achiote seared tangerine. The pork loin was tender and delicious but my favorite dish of the night was the fabulously creamy corn pudding. The savory and warm dish resembled a loose polenta which pooled on the plate beneath the juicy pork loin. Last time I saw Paul there were rumors of a new restaurant in the Austin area but he is currently at Rick’s Chophouse in McKinney. Please come back, Paul. We miss you!