Iron Fork 2013: And the winner is...

Bird's eye view of the 2013 Iron Fork competition

Bird's eye view of the 2013 Iron Fork competition

As guests streamed in the entrance to International Market Square, the six competing chefs surveyed the playing field, taking stock of the pantry items provided by Lunds and Byerly's, considering their ingredients, and sizing each other up. They crossed and uncrossed their arms, picked up knives before laying them carefully back down upon the cutting boards emblazoned with "Iron Fork 2013." The pressure built until the moment when the secret ingredient was finally revealed.

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The secret ingredient for Iron Fork 2013 was: olives. As mundane as they seem, olives make for a surprisingly tricky ingredient, as they can quickly take over a dish and overpower all other flavors.

The judges watched as the chefs readied their cooking stations and steadied their nerves. Those tasked with the honor of deciding this year's winner included this week's City Pages cover boy, WCCO's Jason DeRusha, sporting the same Barney-colored bathrobe from his cover photo; Brian Turner, DJ and resident foodie of KTWIN; Alex Lovera from sponsor Absolut Vodka; April Rog from the evening's charitable beneficiary, Second Harvest Heartland; and yours truly representing City Pages. (I was even offered my own velour robe, but don't quite have the commitment to schtick that Mr. DeRusha possesses.)

As the cooking fury commenced, attendees had the opportunity to circle the room, sampling treats from participating restaurants. Pizza Luce's slices were as popular as ever. There was a tree of donut holes from the lovely ladies of Glam Doll. Sea Salt served raw oysters on the half shell that flew off the ice as quickly as they were placed there. Servers circulated offering Absolut Cosmopolitans. Above, on the VIP mezzanine, guests were able to sit around the edge for a bird's-eye view of the downstairs antics while waiters passed small bites, such as a crisp, refreshing little salad from St. Paul's French Hen.

Below, the chefs were busy basting, turning, crisping chicken skin dusted in ras el hanout. They were making fresh pasta, mousseline, and deftly removing the silver skin from a pork tenderloin with a few flicks of a sharp-edged chef's knife.

Returning champ Landon Schoenefeld again prepared a dizzying array of components for his dish, with what seemed like almost no effort at all -- he even appeared to be smiling as he placed a charred eggplant puree on the plate, full of rich, smoky flavor to accent the olives, which, he admitted, "I don't really like."

The judging was difficult. It seemed each dish was better than the next. Beautifully cooked fish, succulent pork, noodles made from olives and shards of duck-fat-fried leeks. It looked like chef Ian Gray might have finished too early, even though he was the only chef working without an assistant. However, the duck breast he placed atop his bright herb salad was perfectly cooked as the judges descended on his plate in a flurry of clattering forks.

Deliberations were heated. In the end, we had to agree to disagree. We all had our favorites, but the math would have to decide. Since none of us is exactly known for our math skills, City Pages staff tallied our scores.

Brian Turner and his co-emcee chef Seth Bixby Daugherty announced the ranking. A hush fell over the room and the second-place chef was announced as Daniel Del Prado -- meaning Jack Riebel and Brendan McDonald were the champions of Iron Fork 2013! Friends, family, and fans whooped. Chef Jack's wife moved in for a little congratulatory smooch. Neither could stop grinning. "I even busted out some technique and shit! I made chili oil, I poached," he said. That's a Butcher and the Boar dish, right there."

The winning dish was a dreamy coconut broth, spiked with chili oil and a salty little swath of olive specks. The lobster mousseline was stuffed into cabbage leaves with more olives and then gently poached. The entire dish was topped with some chicken -- that wasn't even theirs.

"I had to borrow some chicken from Landon," Riebel remarked as the judges were tasting it. Succulent meat was crowned with crispy skin. For a man known for serving Flintstonian-sized meat chops, it was a dish filled with remarkable restraint. With a bunch of big flavors, or even too much olive, the flavors would not have been so perfectly balanced.

Congratulations to Jack Riebel and Brendan McDonald of Butcher and the Boar, and thank you to our sponsors and our guests. Join us next year for another exciting Iron Fork!

Be sure to check out our Iron Fork 2013 slideshow for more photos from the evening.

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