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A springboard? Beer cooking contest puts a former high-end Houston restaurant chef back in the spotlight

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49 Saint Arnold One Pot Showdown January 2014
One Pot Partners celebrate their victory with Saint Arnold founder Brock Wagner.  Photo by Eric Sandler
8 Saint Arnold One Pot Showdown January 2014
The Party Animals won the Spirit Award.  Photo by Eric Sandler
43 Saint Arnold One Pot Showdown January 2014
The second place team spent over an hour building a roux for their chicken and kale gumbo.  Photo by Eric Sandler
27 Saint Arnold One Pot Showdown January 2014
Judges included Houstonia magazine features editor Katharine Shilcutt, JW Marriott executive chef Erin Smith and Down House owner Chris Cusack.  Photo by Eric Sandler
18 Saint Arnold One Pot Showdown January 2014
Lots of bishops competing for the Spirit Award.  Photo by Eric Sandler
20 Saint Arnold One Pot Showdown January 2014
Themed tents abounded.  Photo by Eric Sandler
11 Saint Arnold One Pot Showdown January 2014
Putting those Astrodome seats to good use.  Photo by Eric Sandler
5 Saint Arnold One Pot Showdown January 2014
Care for a bite? Photo by Eric Sandler
49 Saint Arnold One Pot Showdown January 2014
8 Saint Arnold One Pot Showdown January 2014
43 Saint Arnold One Pot Showdown January 2014
27 Saint Arnold One Pot Showdown January 2014
18 Saint Arnold One Pot Showdown January 2014
20 Saint Arnold One Pot Showdown January 2014
11 Saint Arnold One Pot Showdown January 2014
5 Saint Arnold One Pot Showdown January 2014

Almost 80 teams and more than 800 people gathered for the annual Saint Arnold One Pot Showdown over the weekend. The rules are pretty simple: Cook everything on site (no marinades, smoking, boxed stock, etc) and use at least one form of Saint Arnold beer in the recipe. Teams could also compete for a spirit award by building their booths around a theme and dressing up in costumes.

The event raised more than $5,000 for local charity Kids' Meals, which delivers food to needy children.

While the results included many variations on chili, some teams did branch out. Other options included curry, vegetarian oatmeal, braised oxtails and other soups.

 A One Pot win helped boost the career of the Eatsie Boys, so maybe this victory will spur McClung back to the world of professional cooking.    

A team of 24 judges narrowed the group to 10 finalists from which a six-judge panel selected the top three finishers. One of those judges, newly hired JW Marriott executive chef Erin Smith, explained to CultureMap that teams can do a few things to ensure their success. First, don't make chili; it's really hard to stand out from the crowd. Second, entries that are properly seasoned are few and far between. Finally, using a couple of unusual ingredients, such as the kale featured in the second place dish, can introduce new flavors and generate interest. 

The One Pot Partners team won $500 and title belts for their chicken pozole with Asian flavors. The team, made up of four coworkers who tailgate together, had a bit of a ringer in the form of former Underbelly line cook Cameron McClung, who partnered with friends Jonathan McGuire, Gabe Longoria and Abe Gonzalez. McClung hasn't cooked professionally in about a year but was still able to develop the winning recipe over a couple of practice sessions. 

"I wouldn't have signed up without my friend Jonathan," McClung tells CultureMap. "I just went in to have a good time . . . (but) cooking is still my passion." A One Pot win helped boost the career of the Eatsie Boys, so maybe this victory will spur McClung back to the world of professional cooking.   

Party Animals, a team that sported rather creepy looking animal masks, took the Spirit Award after winning a rocks-paper-scissors battle against the runner up. They won four cases of beer to keep their spirit going. 

As for everyone else, Saint Arnold founder Brock Wagner had a message of consolation. "The verdict was rigged. You were robbed. You deserved to win. We suck."

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