The most fast-paced event of the St. Croix Food & Wine Experience has to be “Food Fight! On the Beach”, in which three culinary teams battle for island-wide domination…or bragging rights at least. This fun-filled competition pairs a celebrity chef with a “junior chef” from St. Croix. The 2014 event, paired Chef Dean Sprinks (Facebook Corporate Executive Chef) with Daralin Acevedo; Chef Billy DeSimone (Executive Chef, Founder of Josef DeSimone Giving the Dream Memorial Fund) with Gira Newton; and, Chef Leah Cohen (2013 Rising Star Winner, Top Chef Contestant) with Jalen Newton.
While the competition varies from year to year, this year began with a blind taste test. One team at a time, contestants were brought up on stage, blindfolded and then given a series of different ingredients to smell, touch and taste, then they had to name the ingredient. My favorite part of this competition was watching the “ewww faces” the junior chefs made when they tasted an ingredient they didn’t like, and they way the junior chefs described some of the ingredients, like Jalen Newton describing truffle oil as smelling like “stinky feet”.
Following the blind taste test, was the game show portion of the competition, the “$10 Pyramid”. Again, the teams were brought up one by one and the celebrity chefs were given a stack of cards with categories on one side and an answer on the other side. The junior chefs got to pick the category and the chefs then had to describe the answer to them until the junior chef guessed it. Each team had three minutes to get as many correct answers as possible. Categories included: “Yuck! I wouldn’t eat that!”, “Lovin’ from the Oven”, “Tools of the Trade”, “TV Chefs”, “Eggsellent”, and “VI Pride”. I have to admit, I was very impressed with how much the junior chefs knew once this game got underway!
For the final, and most action-packed event of the day, we all headed over to Cane Bay Beach for an “Iron Chef” style cook-off. Three cooking stations were setup with a table, a charcoal grill with a pot, and basic cooking utensils and the teams were given 25 minutes to make a “one pot wonder”. The ingredients? That was half the fun! There was a long table covered with an array of ingredients including: a bin of assorted fresh seafood, an entire mahi mahi, bacon, fresh produce, rum, coconut milk, herbs and spices. At the official start of the competition, the teams raced form their cooking stations to the ingredient table and started grabbing the ingredients they wanted to use. My favorite part of the whole event was when the teams rushed to the table to grab their ingredients, Chef Billy DeSimone grabbed the WHOLE mahi mahi, ran it over to his table, and immediately went to work filleting the fish. At least he was nice enough to share with the other teams, but it was a shockingly fun and unexpected way to kick things off!
As both the chefs and junior chefs chopped, mixed and cooked their way along, the junior chefs were called over by the MCs for a surprise…a quick mystery ingredient scavenger hunt. Each junior chef had to find one of the hidden mystery ingredients and use it in their dish. As the teams cooked, the spectators milled around watching the action and cheering them on. As if this wasn’t already a great evening, dusk was settling over Cane Bay making the backdrop of this event all the more breathtaking.
While the competition was a blast, the highlight of this particular event went to two local chefs, Denika Boyd and Aaron Tutein. Denika and Aaron had recently had the honor of working a two week internship at Facebook in San Francisco, California. At the “Food Fight! On the Beach” event, Facebook Corporate Executive Chef Tony Castellucci offered both Denika and Aaron full-time positions with the Facebook culinary staff in California! They were both overwhelmed and were so incredibly grateful to Facebook for the opportunity, as well as to Josef DeSimone who had arranged their internship opportunity before his untimely and unexpected passing. They also couldn’t say enough about the St. Croix Foundation which covered the costs associated with travel for their internship, which in turn led to this amazing job opportunity! Congratulations Denika and Aaron, you are an inspiration not only to the youth of St. Croix, but to us all!The events of St. Croix Food & Wine Experience raise money for the St. Croix Foundation and the great works they do for the island and its residents. What could be better than eating and drinking to raise funds for such a great cause?! For information on the upcoming St. Croix Food & Wine Experience, please visit our Event Page!
– Jennie Ogden, Editor
- A Week of Food, Fun and Fundraising
- Junior Chefs Help to Prepare Gourmet Dinners
- Food & Fun on the Fairway!
- Volunteer or Donate!
- Family Fun at ‘Food Fight! On the Beach’