Monday, January 12, 2015

Foodie Field Trip- Culinary Fight Night

It's all about who you know!! Seriously! I thought this year I would have to scale back on my Foodie Field Trips and spend more time poring over the cookbook stash and cooking at home for entertainment, but when you have a child in the culinary industry you sometimes have a bit of an edge! My lovely daughter Laura graciously invited me to go with her to the 2015 Culinary Fight Night in Des Moines and of course, I said yes!

I'd heard about this event a while back and really wished I could go. As a charity event, the chefs will be raising money to help support the Central Iowa Shelter Services as well as winning some cash for themselves and a black boxing glove as the trophy. As a food event, there will be some amazing dishes to experience. 

Along the line of a Chopped meets Iron Chef type competition, the chefs battle face to face in a Vegas-style boxing ring and each of the chefs will create an appetizer, entree and dessert, and guests vote for their favorite. Besides the exciting menu, guests get to meet and greet with the judges, chefs and other guests, enjoy appetizers and cocktails before the event and take home some swag as well.

The swag was not your typical bag of goodies. Intended to bring home the importance of helping people in need, it was a stark contrast to the typical "goodie bag" at events. While we were dining on filet mignon, lobster, uni, truffles, and enjoying cocktails in a beautiful ballroom, there are people living in shelters, in cars, without even the basic needs. 

Who are the chefs?

Chef Dominic Iannarelli is a graduate of Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, with a degree in hotel restaurant management. After cooking around Ames and Des Moines for a while, he became the Executive Chef at Splash Seafood. Working with Bruce Gerleman, Chef Iannarelli opened Jethro's BBQ, and we all know how successful Jethro's has been! Besides having numerous locations around the Des Moines area, they have been featured on many television shows including Man vs. Food on The Travel Channel.

Chef Mike Holman is one BUSY guy! He is the Executive Chef for Dos Rios, Big City Burgers & Greens and Catering DSM. Also a former Ames resident he began his cooking career at the Iowa Culinary Institute and after, headed to France where he practiced in the St. Etienne region. A passionate advocate of local sources and products, and a supporter of various charities in the area, Mike sounds like a fierce competitor and a peek at the menu he has created for this event demonstrates his skill and vision.

Students from the Iowa Culinary Institute assist the chefs
The scene. The Iowa Ballroom at the Des Moines Marriott was transformed into a boxing arena, surrounded by tables for the guests to watch the action. The pre-fight Meet and Greet gave everyone a chance to visit with the judges, chefs and other locals, and enjoy a cocktail or two and appetizers.

The secret ingredients. All the guests were able to vote ahead of time for a secret ingredient they would like to see the chefs use, and the top three voted were jelly beans, marshmallows and root beer. The chefs could use one ingredient per course OR all three in one course.

The menu. Can I just say WOW? Two appetizers, two entrees and two desserts, and are they are exciting. Chef I used jelly beans to create a gastrique for his shrimp appetizer and Chef H used marshmallows in his white chocolate sauce. The food fight starts with-

Crispy sugar cane shrimp, raspberries, rocket salad and Manchego dressing (Chef I) AND 

Tabasco-seared scallop, gingered sweet potato puree, warm white chocolate sauce and crispy bacon (Chef H). I am dying and headed to the Pearly Swinging Kitchen Doors! So much delicious and we have barely started. The shrimp was speared on a sugar cane stick and placed atop a fresh and crispy salad, with this amazing and light dressing. The scallop was delicious, tender and perfectly cooked, nestled onto a bed of the most delicious sweet potato puree I have ever tasted. Little bits of ginger lingered in the puree. The scallop was my favorite appetizer.

Then we move on to entrees. The entrees had to use the secret ingredient of root beer. Both chefs incorporated it into a sauce-

Honey glazed BBQ duck, sesame seared baby bok choy, garlic and leek fried rice (Chef H) AND 

Szechuan peppercorn crusted filet medallions, lobster XO sauce, uni risotto (Chef I). I am officially in culinary heaven. I have never had uni before so this is an amazing and rare treat for me. of my lifetime favorites. I wish I could describe the duck- it was perfectly cooked, rare, juicy with perfectly cooked skin, nestled onto an Asian-inspired fried rice. Lobster and  filet are always perfect, but paired with a lovely risotto and topped with a shaving of black truffle, it was truly elevated. 

No room for dessert? Well here are two anyway. Chef I used his last secret ingredient, marshmallow, in the tiramisu, and Chef H created a jelly bean sauce to top his ice cream dish-

Hot Chocolate Tiramisu with peppermint Schnapps (Chef I) AND 

Brown sugar glazed bananas, Orange coconut cardamom ice cream, toasted walnuts and salted caramel whipped cream (Chef H). There just are no words. The ice cream was very light, the banana was caramelized beautifully and not too sweet, and the drizzle of jelly bean sauce brought that touch of sweet. The tiramisu brought the sweet in a big way. Soft ladyfingers, creamy mascarpone, drizzled with the hot chocolate sauce, it reminded me of cannoli.

The judges. Five dignitaries/personalities were on hand for the official judging, and they were KCCI Reporter Emmy Victor; Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie; Miss Iowa 2014 Aly Olson; cookbook author, writer and TV Host Wini Moranville and Juice Magazine's Rebecca Sidles. As guests we also had a say in the competition after trying all the courses by casting our vote for the best chef.

The competition was incredibly close. By a score of 379 to 377.......the winner of the 2015 Culinary Fight Night Des Moines is...........Chef Mike Holman of Dos Rios! This event was so much fun, I want to visit some other cities and experience what their chefs bring to the ring!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


  1. This event just looks amazing. The photo of your and your daughter is gorgeous. And to hear our favorite Wini judged. What an experience.

    1. It was so much fun!! I'm so glad I got to go. Wini is such a sweetheart. And the food!!! OMGosh......