Foodies flocked en masse to World Café Live Tuesday night to watch six of Philadelphia’s best chefs compete for one crown: Hop Chef.
The competition, hosted by Brewery Ommegang, sought to bring out their most creative offerings as the chefs paired Ommegang ales with gourmet foods. The three-hour event filled the dusty concert hall with enchanting smells — none richer than the pork fat emanating from George Sabatino’s station — and, of course, high-octane pours, like Ommegang’s Three Philosophers which weighs in at 9.8-percent.
The contestants — Joe Cicala, executive chef at Le Virtu; Jonathan Cichon, executive chef at Lacroix; Jason Cichonski, executive chef at Ela; Nicholas Elmi, executive chef at Rittenhouse Tavern; Sabatino, executive chef at Stateside; and Scott Schroeder, executive chef at South Philadelphia Tap Room and American Sardine Bar — were all business (well, almost) as they tried to persuade the judges through their cooking, and with their banter.
Each chef got a few minutes on stage to show the sold-out crowd their personalities and convince the judges why they were Hop Chef. Cichonski was the resident pretty boy, according to his peers, while Schroeder played the role of class clown to perfection. (He even named his signature dish, an open-faced hot roast beef sandwich, after one of his competitors, Chef Nicholas Elmi).
After all the votes were counted, Schroeder — who allowed us into his kitchen last week — finished a few barley grains short. He won the fan vote, but lost the judge’s one as Sabatino was crowned Hop Chef. He’ll move on to face-off against regional winners at Ommegang headquarters in Cooperstown, NY on Aug. 4 in the Grand Hop Chef cook-off.
“I’m the people’s champ,” joked Shroeder, right before the group shook up and sprayed a bottle of fine ale all over Sabatino.
The dish that put Sabatino over the top was his Smoked Beef Cheek Lettuce Wrap, complete with fried pork fat, watermelon rind pickle and beer-boiled peanuts. (Think of it as a braised short rib with an attitude adjustment). He served it with Ommegang Abbey Dubbel BBQ sauce and paired it with Abbey Ale. He’ll be serving the wraps — three for $10 (definitely worth that price) — at Stateside for lunch (11 a.m.-3 p.m.) and happy hour (5-7 p.m.) Thursday and Friday.