As soon as he sat his plated creations out for the judges, Dante’s Fire chef-owner Kenneth Foy had a feeling he would win the 2022 Iron Chef Tucson competition.
“Once I put our stuff out there, I thought we had a level of sophistication that would win,” he said Monday, Aug. 1, two days after the July 30 competition at Casino del Sol.
Foy upset reigning Iron Chef Wendy Gauthier, the chef-owner of Chef Chic at 1104 S. Wilmot Road, who held the title since winning in 2019. The pandemic forced organizers of the event, which pits Tucson chefs in a timed competition using a “secret” ingredient, to cancel the event in 2020 and 2021.
“It was a really close competition between two amazingly talented chefs,” Casino del Sol Executive Chef Ryan Clark, a commentator for the event, said in a written statement. “So, kudos to both Ken and Wendy. The event was a great time and we can’t wait to do it again next year.”
“I heard it was close,” Gauthier said. “We had fun. I’m very proud of my team. I couldn’t have asked them to do any better.”
Foy and Gauthier had one hour on July 30 to create four dishes using the secret ingredient — cherries — as a central component. Cherries was one of four ingredients being considered and the two chefs were given the list of potential ingredients the night before the competition so they could sketch out ideas. The chefs also had to use Blue Moon beer in one dish — Blue Moon is one of the principal sponsors of the competition.
Foy said he and his team crafted dishes based on all the possibilities.
“I didn’t think cherry was going to be it. … I thought it was going to be beef liver so I was kind of bummed,” he said. “We’re just happy they didn’t pick puffed pastry.”
“We liked the ingredient,” he added. “I think why we were so successful was our range.”
Foy and his team deployed cherries in his Blue Moon pesto that was part of his tasting plate alongside cayenne cherry compote, seared Asian pears, candied bacon and cheddar crisps.
Tart cherries added a punch to his tart cherry beet borscht finished with a carrot aioli, a carrot chip and toasted papitas.
He added a cherry beurre rouge to pickled ginger sweet potato mash served with cherry wood-smoked parmesan chips and topped a cherry crumble with walnut streusel, a caramel “dealie whopper” — an edible decoration made from semi-hardened caramel — and allspice whipped cream.
Gauthier said she and her team were excited about working with cherries. They created a vegetable carpaccio with quick pickled cherries and fried avocado, and a congee — think rice soup — cooked in cherry puree that was topped with cherry roasted spiced pumpkin seeds and diced cherries. Another dish featured shrimp stuffed with a three-cheese blend and cherries wrapped in bacon and served with a sweet and sour cherry sauce, and ricotta cherry gnocchi with macadamia nuts, candied orange peel and a cherry flambé.
About 650 people attended the competition, according to Nathan Lanham-Baird, marketing and promotions director of the contest’s coordinator, Arizona Lotus Corp.
“The 60 minutes goes by in the blink of an eye,” said longtime Tucson food writer and publicist Matt Russell, who was a commentator alongside Clark. “As the chefs got closer to where they have to sort of back off and raise their hands … their work became quite intense.”
Foy said he phoned his restaurant at 2526 E. Grant Road after the contest results were announced July 30 and the restaurant erupted in cheers.
Foy plans to host an Iron Chef dinner soon that will feature his competition-winning dishes. He also plans to add the Asian pear tasting plate to his menu.