Galveston may seem like an unlikely place for a culinary competition, but chefs from all over the country flock there every fall for two days of intense battles. They're united by more than just knife skills and the ability to deliver a properly medium rare steak — they all work for Landry's Inc., the Houston-based global restaurant empire.
Known as Iron Chef, the event brings together's the company's best chefs who compete to develop new menu items that could be served at the company's various concepts. Now in its seventh year, Landry's decided to mix things up a bit by concluding this year's competition with the Pour & Pair Throwdown. Three senior chefs from the Landry's Signature Group matched up with three chefs from California wineries to craft dishes that paired with specific wines.
Still, it was Rodriguez and Young who captured the judges' favor with a spiced rub lamb loin and caramelized fish. The duo earned praise for both inventive use of the ingredients and the way each dish paired with its corresponding wine.
Wade Wiestling, vice president for culinary development at The Oceanaire, Morton's and Maestro's, joined forced with Kendall Jackson chef Eric Frishkorn; Landry's Signature Group corporate executive chef Michael Frietsch matched with Joey Altman from Diageo Chateau & Estates; and former Vic & Anthony's executive chef Carlos Rodriguez, now promoted to corporate chef for the Signature Group, united with Brett Young from the Franciscan Estate Winery.
All three teams had an hour to utilize the ingredients in a Chopped-style mystery box that contained grass fed lamb, Gulf golden tile fish, Japanese eggplant and, for a sweet-spicy twist, ginger snaps.
Four judges evaluated the dishes and selected a winner. They were Houston's two James Beard Award winners, Underbelly's Chris Shepherd and RDG + Bar Annie's Robert Del Grande, along with Texas Monthly's Pat Sharpe and Master of Wine Peter Marks. Landry's vice president Tyler Field hosted the event and kept the audience, comprised of the Iron Chef competitors, Landry's executives and media members, apprised of the goings on in the kitchen.
A Landry's employee touted Wiestling as the favorite, given that his portfolio includes both a steakhouse and a seafood restaurant. He and Frishkorn served their lamb with a sauce made from dried cherries and Cherry Coke and crusted the tile fish in macadamia nuts. Del Grande called the lamb "killer across the board," but thought the fish needed more salt and acidity.
Frietsch kept the crowd entertained with his quips, earning laughs from his colleagues when he said he planned to cut the fish into half-inch pieces and saute them (he didn't).
Still, it was Rodriguez and Young who captured the judges' favor with a spiced rub lamb loin and caramelized fish. The duo earned praise for both their inventive use of the ingredients and the way each dish paired with its corresponding wine. Shepherd acknowledged that he's "not a fan of eggplant," but said that Young's version, which was both grilled and roasted, "was perfect." Rodriguez also incorporated the vegetable into a roasted ratatouille.
"I loved both of these dishes," Sharpe added.
In theory, the winning dishes could find their ways onto menus around the country, but Del Grande made a suggestion that Landry's should strongly consider.
"I think the best dish would've been if you all cook together," he told the competitors. "You can all turn it up to 11."