It’s whisks and spatulas at dawn as cooks take on a new culinary combat challenge. Emily Jupp gets a taste for food fights.
In a dimly lit restaurant in Hoxton Square, strewn with strings of garlic, red onions and art nouveau posters, an actress dressed as a waitress is addressing diners in a fake French accent. There is a giant stuffed cockerel above the bar, which looks on impassively as the waitress declares: “Zere will be six plats, three from each chef, and you must shoos your favourite dish from each course.”
Diners are then presented with Top Trumps-style cards with the chef’s credentials (“Age: 27. Utensil préféré: balloon whisk”) and score cards to rate their dishes. This is Rumble: Part Deux, the second in a series of dining clubs organised by Shuttlecock Inc, which creates immersive food events.
Like literary death matches and slam poetry nights before them, food fights are the new way for chefs to show off their skills in a battle-type scenario, and diners get to explore double the usual number of courses — it’s a fight that’s win-win and the format is popping up all across town.
We are presented with six courses in total: a starter, main and pudding from each of the two chefs trying to outdo each other with the same set of ingredients. Today there’s octopus to start (one made into a velouté, the other a spicy mélange), followed by beef cheek and a vanilla dessert (crème brûlée versus rice pudding, both so delicious it’s agony to decide between them). The waitresses/actors mingle with the diners, topping up glasses and making jokes, while diners discuss the merits of the courses.
“They talk about the food, about the differences they can spot, they get really excited about it,” says Rob Fabio of Edible Experiences, which runs Flavour Expats, a similar food-fight-style dining club where chefs from different countries battle it out to defend their native cuisine. Fabio says the sense of competition brings out the best in the chefs.
“No knives have been thrown across the stoves so far. In fact, I noticed during the series that chefs tend to help each other with preparation and plating … all the cooking pairs reach that level of chemistry over a few hours’ service and, at the end of the “battle”, they stay in touch for a pint, a coffee or a future collaboration.”
Meanwhile, tonight’s Rumble rivals are Max Pasetti, the defending Shuttlecock champion who’s worked at Jacob Kenedy’s Soho restaurant Bocca di Lupo, and resident chef Tom Ryalls (ex-Moro), but back in the kitchen they seem to be getting along just fine.
“We are competitive,” says Ryalls. “We say we’re not but as soon as you start making the dishes, we get competitive.” It turns out they both worked at Moro together and most of the competitive banter is for show. But it’s not always such a fun atmosphere in the kitchen.
“In the last series we had a guest chef with a whole team who rolled in with 18-hour slow-cooked pork belly,” says Ryalls, “and we just bashed ours in the oven and he was shocked when we won.” He grins.
The Shuttlecock foodie battles have been such a success that they’re opening a permanent venue in Marylebone in August called Carousel, and Flavour Expats has plans for more supper clubs during the summer.
Knives and forks at the ready, the food-fight clubs are coming.
Carousel opens on August 20, 71 Blandford Street, W1 (carousel-london.com, shuttlecock-inc.com, backdoor-kitchen.com)
Source: London Evening Standard