Flower City All-Stars: Chef Throwdown

The 2nd Flower City All-Stars: Chef Throwdown is down in the books! While a small bit of time has passed since the event, it certainly has given me time to reflect, as well as get in some needed R & R, post-event and post-school year! I am truly overwhelmed by the support and friendships that have developed along the way throughout the process of the throwdown series. The opportunity to get to connect with chefs, organizations, and local businesses, while in turn supporting the community of Rochester has meant so much to me.

Working with this year’s talented line-up of chefs and seeing their creativity hatch into stunning dishes has been an incredible experience. I have gotten to know who they are behind the chef coats and am in awe of their kindness, determination and expertise.

This past May, the competition was all about Men vs Women and both teams put up a tremendous fight! Each chef took careful consideration as they decided the dish they would be showcasing at the competition. Schutt’s Apple Mill provided award winning fried cakes, crafted from their family recipe passed down over generations. New to the throwdown series were three donation gift baskets where funds went directly to two non-profits supported through the event, provided by Rochester Brainery, Three Brother’s Winery & Estates and Guglielmo Sauce.

Samantha Buyskes, F2T Kitchen, Claire Benjamin, Rue Claire Lavender Farm & Chocolatier, Raisha Wiggins, The Elephant Geneva,
Matt Wooster, New York Kitchen, Stephen Jamieson, Flight West Wine & Whiskey Bar, Aaron Bolton, Simply Crepes

Working alongside Shannon Klymochko, Events Manager of Kin Event Space, was everything that I could have asked for. She is detail-oriented, reassuring and encouraging. You know I like to keep it real with you and I’m going to admit that there are moments in the process between event creation and execution where you overanalyze and critique the decisions you have made along the way. Sometimes this can get in the way of you recognizing your accomplishments. Shannon was there to both support and offer advice throughout the process, which I am incredibly thankful for. Kin is located in the historic NOTA district, owned by Kristin Klock-Wattie of Root Catering. The space begins as a blank canvas, transforming your vision into a picturesque experience. The space is a host to Root Catering event concepts and individual events.

One of my favorite parts of the event process is the photoshoot that we do prior to the ticket sales release. This gives the chef teams a chance to meet each other, lays the groundwork for the friendly competition, and gives everyone a chance to let loose and have fun. There is no better way to do this than recreating a battle scene.

Laura Spiggle of Laura Spiggle Photography, is such a talented photographer and captured both the rivalry and the excitement of the throwdown. I can’t say enough about this beautiful momma and her ability to portray a feeling or moment with her lens. Laura photographed both the promotional and event photos!

One-hundred guests walked through the doors of Kin that evening with the excitement of a men vs. women culinary team battle. Fresh-cut plants in miniature vases, lined the farmhouse-style tables. Shelby, who you may better know as The Botanist, has dedicated herself to botanical education and care. When I shared with her the simplistic style, she was able to bring this vision to life. Shelby not only livens event spaces with plant decor, but she hosts plant-focused events and connects with individuals for consultations.

First time attendees, 2 children (who analyzed the competing teams throughout the night!) and returning throwdown guests chatted over their menu, waiting in anticipation for the first dishes to be set at the chef tables. It’s during this time that I paused to look around and take in the moment before I stepped up to the microphone to introduce the first pair of challengers. Some of my goals with this event series have been for guests to get to know each of the chefs beyond the kitchen of the restaurant. Guests are free to ask questions and peruse the chef photos and notes of inspiration, drafted by each of the chefs. In turn, I want the chefs to be able to be inspired to create dishes that showcase their creativity and demonstrate their outstanding talent.

The first head-to-head battle between Samantha Buyskes and Stephen Jamieson had crowds going back to their dishes, analyzing flavor profiles. I was truly impressed with the enthusiastic chatter and attention to detail from the guests tasting their dishes. Buyskes, Executive Chef at F2T Kitchen known for her focus on using local ingredients and creating a memorable culinary experience, began by prepping her lamb, marinating it 24 hours in advance to develop and enhance flavor. Moroccan-style spice, pomegranate molasses, spiced yogurt, topped with cucumbers, tomato, red onion, cilantro, mint and dill boasted fresh and authentic tastes.

Jamieson prepared a Berbere spiced duck topped with a beautiful ramp chimmichurri. The tender sliced duck sat atop a crispy wonton. Mango Thai basil slaw, spiced peanuts and micro-greens elevated the dish with a complexity of flavors, leaving guests wanting to go back for more. Jamieson, Exectutive Chef at Flight West Wine & Whiskey Bar, has an extraordinary ability to combine flavors and execute components for a tasteful finalized dish.

Raisha Wiggins and Matt Wooster paired for the second battle. Raisha is able to develop Thai-style flavors inspired by the dishes she creates at The Elephant Geneva. Chicken larb lettuce wraps gave attendees the option of choosing how to dress their dish. Crisp and fresh, Wiggins highlighted Thai flavors, letting attendees control their level of heat added to their dish with a trio of sauces: chili vinegar, fish sauce + chili, Thai sriracha.

Wooster’s signature dish was a Southern fried green tomato w/ homemade pimento cheese, topped with rich, flavorful braised pork belly, tomato bacon jam and yam. With an extensive culinary background as Lead Culinary Educator at New York Kitchen, Wooster showcased his talent providing the perfect crispiness of the fried green tomato coupled with the layer of flavors marrying together to create the ideal bite.

The first 2 rounds left guests enthusiastically comparing tasting notes as they awaited the final head-to-head battle. Hand-crafted chocolatier, Claire Benjamin, owner of Rue Claire Lavender Farm & Chocolatier, revealed 3 artistic chocolate creations: green-jasmine truffle with white french chocolate, passion fruit and a green tea ganache, a hazelnut bayleaf honey pot truffle, and a dark chocolate caramelized onion petite bar on chocolate, toasted oat and almond “dirt.” The innovative presentation showcased Benjamin’s culinary talent, infusing tasting notes to create both an aesthetically pleasing and satisfying dessert.

Aaron Bolton, Executive Chef at Simply Crepes, debuted a shrimp & grits that he has been perfecting for years: Korean-spiced shrimp with creamy leek quinoa grits and honey-bacon lime vinaigrette. Guests raved about the velvety grits and unique presentation. Bolton’s ability to take a classic dish and elevate it was evident, enhancing the flavor profiles to create a balanced and fresh approach.

The head-to-head competition between the men’s and women’s menu was heated and the chefs truly made this a throwdown with innovative, flavor-packed dishes. The chefs left a lasting impression on the attendees as buzz spread throughout the night from course-to-course. Both teams were incredibly talented and the decision for the People’s Choice award was a difficult feat, however the men’s team took away the award for the night.

Guest judges Linh Philips, Food & Drink blogger Sirrochasays, Paul Guglielmo, Radio Host & owner Guglielmo Sauce, Chelsey Frail, Marketing Director Palmer Food Services, and Vince Press, Freelance Food Writer (585 Magazine, Democrat & Chronicle) had the challenge of contemplating winners for the individual awards.

Best Presentation: Aaron Bolton, Korean-Spiced Shrimp & Grits

Best Taste: Stephen Jamieson, Berbere Spiced Duck

Most Creative: Claire Benjamin,

The most rewarding part of the evening was connecting with two local non-profits who received approximately $2000 in donation to their organizations. ROCovery Fitness, Inc. is a premier resource dedicated to recovery and sober living through fitness, wellness and community support. Yana Khashper, CEO & Co-Founder of ROCovery, eloquently spoke about the impact of the outreach program, providing access to those seeking support, including friends and family members. Khashper’s message hit home to many in the audience as sobriety effects more than just the individual who is struggling with addiction and the recovery process.

Chris Lavin, Executive Director of Geneva Boys & Girls Club, spoke about their mission to empower the community, particularly youth, to reach their potential. A comprehensive approach, inspiring young people through opportunities and evidence-based programs in the community meets the needs of all. Lavin reflected on his years with GBGC, watching those grow up, supported by the all-inclusive programs, facing and overcoming struggles to become successful young adults. Making connections, being a role model and including necessary programs that provide the building blocks for a future, demonstrate an all-encompassing, caring community program by GBGC.

The Flower City All-Stars Chef Throwdown was able to take place with the support of the following sponsors. Thank you to Kin Event Space for sponsoring and hosting the event location. A big thank you as well to Headwater Food Hub for providing a portion of the meat and produce, as well as Stuart’s Spices, providing a portion of the spices.

Gold Level Sponsors: Headwater Food Hub, Salon Marce, Palmer Food Services, Sapori Gourmet Sauces, KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

Silver Level Sponsors: Zweigle’s

Bronze Level Sponsors: New York Kitchen, Roc & Soul Fitness, LoVerdi Dental, Rubino’s Italian Food

Donations: Schutt’s Apple Mill, Stuart’s Spices, The Botanist, Kin Event Space, Salty Lemon Studio, Sweet & Cute Coffee Syrup

Look for the next Flour City All-Stars: Chef Throwdown in November of this year! Follow along through the blog, Instagram and Facebook for the most-up-to-date information about events, food and travel.

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