Cooking in a cramped kitchen on a 98-degree day isn't exactly fun. Not even for one of Philadelphia's most accomplished chefs. But there was Scott Schroeder, slaving away on the griddle as he prepared his shrimp torta. Schroeder is in training for the Ommegang Hop Chef Competition.
"I don't ever volunteer for stuff like this," Schroeder joked, adding that an Ommegang sales rep urged him to enter the competition. "I don't mind the publicity, but I'd rather be sitting at home."
Hop Chef, which challenges area chefs to prepare and pair dishes using Ommegang ales, has been going on for years in other cities, like New York, but this is its Philadelphia debut. Schroeder has been researching and evaluating the dishes that New York's finest have served up. And, in his expert opinion, they just weren't very impressive.
"I know we can do better, more creative things," he said.
The Big Apple refuses to leave behind those dusty old wine bottles and pick up craft-inspired growlers.
"You walk in a lot of big-name chef restaurants in New York or even in their hotels, they still ignore the beer program," Schroeder said. "You walk in and you're still drinking Stella Artois or Heineken... Their beer selection pretty much sucks. You come to Philly restaurants and our big name chefs have woken up to it. We're selling a lot of craft beers ... Jose Garces, Marc Vetri, a lot of our hotels, they have a lot of American craft beers all over their taps."
The cooking is the easy part. The hard part is turning it into a spectacle, something that you might see on Food Network.
"My sous chef is doing it with me, maybe we'll work shirtless or something like that," Schroeder joked. "We're trying to focus on the food now. We're focus on the comedy routine next week."
Next duel for winner: Taking on other cities
Hop Chef is broken down into five categories: simple pairing, cooking with beer, mimicking beer, story telling and experimental. The winner has a chance to flex Philly's beer superiority on New York's home turf, as the victor will head to Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, NY, to duke it out with other regional winners.
"A lot of my friends that live in New York come into [South Philly] Tap Room and they're like, 'We don't have this, it's something that really doesn't exist (in New York)," Schroeder said. "They're starting to get it, but it's kind of weird to have New York behind Philly in something, that doesn't happen. They're bigger, better, faster at everything, so it's neat to see that we're ahead."
Schroeder is the head chef at South Philadelphia Tap Room and American Sardine Bar.
He is also the creator of Scott Dogs, one of the growing number of Philadelphia’s gourmet food trucks.
Schroeder will be going up against five other local chefs: Jason Cichonski, George Sabatino, Nicholas Elmi, Jon Cichon and Joe Cicala.
“I feel like I’m the underdog,” Schroeder said. “I’m probably the most accomplished of them … but they’re all younger, have a broader skill set, know more about new modern cooking than I know at all. It’d be nice to beat the kids, you know, they’re a little flashier than I am.”
If you go
Ommegang Hop Chef Competition
Tuesday, July 10, 7-10 p.m.
World Café Live, 3025 Walnut Street
$57.92 (with service fees)