The competition was fierce and the seafood sustainable at Monday night's Seafood Throwdown, which pitted the top two seafood chefs in town for a battle royale of the bivalves. Chef Robert Wohfeil of Oceanaire and chef Jamie Malone of Sea Change went head to head with a basket full of secret ingredients and the whole of Midtown Global Market's products to see who would reign supreme.
The event was sponsored by Fish Smart, the nonprofit program from the Minnesota Zoo that works with area chefs, all committed to serving only sustainable seafood at their restaurants and to educate the public about the fragility of our oceans.
The evening began with the chefs each preparing oysters two ways. Chef Malone presented one that had been gently cooked sous vide before being encapsulated in its own brine. The thin membrane holding it in suspension burst in the mouth in a bright, salty bite.
Chef Wohfeil's oysters were first topped with a bit of soy sauce and sushi vinegar, raw. His other preparation was the oyster laid on a salty bit of procuitto, topped with marscapone cheese and baked. The pork, oyster, and the creamy, barely sweet cheese were a delightful combination.
After the secret ingredients were revealed--collard greens, freekeh (also known as green wheat), beluga lentils, kumquats and tomatillos--the chefs went to work, both working first with a beautiful barramundi and succulent crab meat.
As the chefs cooked, the guests sipped champagne cocktails, wine, and Fulton beer as Mike Higgins, president of the Fish Guys, spoke a bit about why sustainable seafood is so important and talked about the vast array of products he works with. Emcee Stephanie March peppered the audience with seafood questions and added colorful commentary ("Let's all have a big suck fest," she said, talking about crawfish boils).
Before long the chefs' courses were being placed before lucky diners, including Tim McKee, who came out to support chef Malone.
Wohfeil served first, an almond crusted barramundi with a collard green pesto over the freekeh.
Malone followed with a barramundi sashimi, folded in on itself and topped with a warm embrace of lardo. Sprinkled with crispy fish skin and a dollop of kumquat puree, it was alternately crunchy and silky, salty and fatty, bright and savory.
Wohfeil followed with a mofungo--crispy fried, smashed green plantains, accented by crumbled chicharron with crab meat and a zesty serrano-spiked, roasted tomatillo salsa.
By contrast, Malone's next dish came with perfectly seasoned avocado, topped with crab meat above a little green dollop of citrusy tomatillo puree.
The judges were faced with a difficult decision. Both chefs effortlessly incorporated the secret ingredients with the high-quality seafood. The judges were March, whose day job is food editor for Mpls/St Paul magazine and host of myTalk 107.1's Weekly Dish, chef Jason Ross, instructor at Le Cordon Bleu and blogger for Minnesota Monthly; and me.
Once the scores were tabulated, the winner was announced: Jamie Malone of Sea Change. A fan-favorite dish was also decided, as the attendees voted for their favorite. Malone's crab and avocado dish won this honor.