Last week, we let two dumpling heavyweights battle it out here in the Versus arena, pitting international superstar Din Tai Fung against beloved local Mandarin Chef. And despite much mewling and whining from those who thought it was an unfair, inapt, or completely lopsided fight, we actually had a decent turnout at the polls, and (surprise, surprise) Mandarin Chef won this one in fine form, taking a full 66% of the vote. So hooray for the little guy, right?
Seth Caswell, giving some love to the troops.
Well, we've got a much more local showdown happening this week. Following yesterday's announcement that we've confirmed our two chefs for this year's Voracious Tasting Chef Showdown, I figured it would be completely appropriate to decide this battle first in the court of public opinion, before either competitor even steps to the stage.
The Contenders: Seth Caswell is both the defending champion of the Voracious Tasting Chef Showdown, having triumphed last year over Jason Stratton of Spinasse, and the chef at Emmer & Rye, a restaurant I did not exactly love when I reviewed it several months ago. With both Revel and Joule, Rachel Yang has two restaurants to worry about, but she comes to the stage with an odd veteran status: She's cooked in Kitchen Stadium on Iron Chef America, where she took on Jose Garces. Granted, she lost her battle, but that kind of blooding will make almost any other kind of competition seem like a cakewalk in comparison.
The Stats: Two restaurants for Yang, one for Caswell. A win for Caswell at last year's Chef Showdown, a loss for Yang on Iron Chef America. Both competitors try to cook local. Caswell works with a Mediterranean bent at Emmer & Rye. Yang makes the word "fusion" a ridiculous understatement at Joule. The biggest predictor of how this battle is going to go down might be in the chefs' deep background. Caswell made his bones at the Stumbling Goat Bistro before opening Emmer & Rye. Yang? She cooked for Alain Ducasse.
The Battle: . . . will actually be held April 27, onstage at the Paramount Theatre, and I have no idea how it is going to go. I know Caswell can go the distance. Having seen him work under pressure and under the lights, I know he can put together a killer menu on the fly and with unfamiliar ingredients and equipment. I've never seen Yang perform under the same circumstances--but can't wait to see how it goes.
The Final Score: Right now, that's up to you. With the factors discussed above, who do you think will take home the crown this year (and no, there isn't an actual crown, but seriously, how cool would that be)? If you've eaten at both restaurants and sampled the skills of both chefs, who do you think will triumph in our little duel-to-the-death? You can vote for your favorite right here on our brand-spankin' new Versus poll page, and next week I'll let everyone know what the results were.
And then, about a month later, we'll all get to see how things go for real, when the title of Champion is truly on the line.