We've seen chef Donald Chang cracking jokes and busting a move while cooking and entertaining guests. But the Nara restaurant owner was serious nom nom business as he and sous chef Jojo Urbano went wok to wok with Soma co-executive chef Gabriel Medina and sous chef Cathy Nguyen in an Iron Chef-style throwdown at an Asia Society Texas Center young professionals "Leo Bar" social on Thursday.
Chang needed his full attention. Medina had meticuously detailed his dish and its execution during a two-month process. A hand-drawn sketch of the plating and a typed timeline were clues that Medina and Nguyen weren't screwing around, either, with their Texas Kobe beef-inspired dish.
Medina was inspired by how Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi treated vegetables in the cookbook Jerusalem.
As CultureMap food authority and event judge Eric Sandler explained, the trick to the luxe and expensive cut of meat is to allow its intense flavor to shine naturally. To overwhelm this delicacy with too complex of a conconction is a sin. Judges ABC Ch. 13's Katherine Whaley and Benjy's Joshua Silver agreed.
Chang, who lost power for part of the feud, prepared his Texas T Kobe strip with Korean red pepper dry rub over a dashi reduction accompanied by sake-poached shingo pears and a sharp cheddar and gruyère macaroni purse. It was all encapsulated in a hurricane of swirling applewood smoke.
Medina paced inside and out of the beautiful center, checking to ensure that his grill flames were just right for a creation that included taro and beet purée, nori yogurt, charred pickled red onions, fresh zatar and arugula.
Who earned the Golden Wok trophy?
Emcee Lily Jang of KHOU Ch. 11, who was sparkling while wearing an 18-karat rose gold Hublot timepiece with 126 diamonds (the Swiss watchmaker was a sponsor), announced that it was Medina's creativity that ultimately wowed the judges. The accomplished toque was inspired by how Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi treated vegetables in the cookbook Jerusalem.
Conceived by Asia Society director of performing arts and culture Evan Wildstein (who deserved yet another mazel tov for his recent engagement to Huda Alsheikh), the gathering welcomed some 100 young professionals including James Ozenci, Ruben Lizaola, Justin Lasiewicz, Heliz Forouzan, Christina Dang, Lien Pham, Melissa Permé, Adam Johnson and Claudia Sartori.