Getting invited to see and taste this year’s NTDTV’s 3rd Annual Cooking Competition at Times Square’s Duffy Square was quite an interesting and admittedly, unconventional spot to host an event like this. I would never imagine having an outdoor cooking competition smack in the middle of the busiest, tourist-filled area. But they’ve built platforms, a stage, four kitchens (that look like this), and several tables for VIPs and press. Cameras were everywhere and yes, the food smelled amazing as the 23 chefs from Australia, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan and the United States were duking it out with the dishes they’ve presented to the judges.
It’s been fun going to witness the chefs cook under a 30-45 minute time frame for dishes like mapo tofu, double-cooked pork, and dry sauteed fish that’s covered in a chili oil sauce (it’s Szechuan cuisine, example).
The only thing that didn’t work out too well was the weather that weekend. While it was pretty humid, it rained a lot and it doesn’t work too well for most of us not sheltered from it.
My favorite dishes of the entire two-day competition were these (see below):
The braised sea cucumber with scallion (top left) was something very familiar to me. Sea cucumber is one of the many delicacies in Chinese cooking and this is things you’d normally eat on special occasions. This particular chef cooked these echinoderms perfectly; it’s tender yet not to the point that it’s falling apart when you pick it up with chopsticks. The last thing you want to eat, in regards to sea cucumbers, is to either have it undercooked that it’s leathery or rubbery or have it overcooked as I’ve described earlier.
The pour sauce fish (top right) was wonderfully flavored and the fish wasn’t overcooked. Frankly, after photographing that fish, all the other eaters picked through most of it. I really loved the sauce being savory and sweet at the same time.
The shelled shrimp saute in oyster sauce was the dish I was very curious about on the second day of competition. I saw on the kitchen where that chef was creating the dish, it was fascinating to see him shell the shrimp, chop it into a paste with the giant cleaver and form them into shrimp balls and deep fry them. These fried orbs were amazing. The sweetness of the shrimp was emphasized by the sauce and they’re very springy when bitten.
Probably the one who took the cake was the braised scallop in garlic dish. When my parents saw that dish, they were totally jealous. Basically, these were rehydrated dried scallops and they’re braised with garlic and possibly a touch of oyster sauce until it is fork tender. The chef shaped the dish by using a bowl as a mold and fill it with the scallops and then top it with wilted spinach. This dish is something I would normally get during Chinese New Year, as high grade, large dried scallops are around $90 per pound retail, a typical Chinese person wouldn’t splurge that much on a normal day.
For more photos of the competition, please see the slideshow below:
As a member of the press, they invited me to join their 10-Course Banquet that is also doubles as a fundraiser on Sunday, October 3rd at Chelsea Piers.
During the cocktail reception, a lot of guests, mostly dressed in cocktail dresses for the women and suits for the men, were having their cocktails (mostly rum-based) and two types of cakes (green tea cake with dried cranberries and a dried strawberry cake). A good amount lingered outside for the gorgeous view of the downtown Manhattan skyline, as it was good weather during that hour of the day.
As dinnertime rolled in, we all walked into the banquet room. Dimly lit, filled with 25 to 30 round tables and cameramen on the back and sidelines of the room.
When all were settled, the hosts presented the winners of this year’s competition. Seven chefs from New York who earned gold, silver, bronze and honorable mention medals for their expertise in five categories of Chinese cuisine. One of the chefs who who won Gold (with a $10,000 US prize money), was Yongyi Jiang, currently cooking in Chengdu 23 in New Jersey for Szechuan cuisine. (Silver medalists get $3,000 and bronze takes home $1,000.)
Arguably the best part of this entire banquet besides eating, was getting a chance to take photos inside the kitchen.
Here’s the menu (points above). If you do count each dish on that card, that’s 17 courses! As a woman, this is considered to be a gut-busting dinner – and probably wasn’t a great idea to wear a fitted dress. Even though this is served the mostly in the Chinese banquet style, which means family-style, that’s still a lot of food to eat.
Of the six appetizers, I’ve eaten my favorite was the spicy sea conch in chili oil, five-spice smoked fish, and the braised double mushrooms. The sea conch was tender and spicy but refreshing. The smoked fish reminds me something from my childhood. The fish was tender, barely smoky and sweet and savory at the same time. The braised double mushrooms were super tender shiitake mushrooms that’s been cooked to the point that it’s silky to chew.
Moving on to the more substantial courses, one particular dish was very nostalgic for me: seafood in bird nest. This was probably the best version I’ve eaten. The nest is basically deep fried noodles that’s shaped into a nest and filled with perfectly cooked seafood (mixture of scallops and shrimp) and sugar snap peas.
My absolute favorite of the night was the abalone in imperial oyster sauce. Abalone is a huge edible sea snail, in case you don’t know what it is. When cooked properly, like this specimen, it is very meaty and tastes like the sea and should not be tough.
Another great dish was the dry-sauteed prawns. The chef cooked these huge prawns in a minced beef-based chili sauce that these crustaceans were divinely spicy, especially when you get the shrimp from the bottom of the plate where the pool of chili oil is located. Something about the numbing, tingling sensation from the Szechuan peppercorns used in that dish feels good on the back of my throat.
There were many other dishes I’ve eaten that night, to see them, please flip through the slideshow below:
In all, the NTDTV Chinese Culinary Cooking Competition and Banquet does show the best of Chinese cooking. It’s very different than the stuff one normally see from Chinese take-out restaurants. If you’d ever do have the time, I highly suggest you to go there next year.
NTDTV’s 3rd Annual Cooking Competition link