Ok, so Iron Fork took place a little less than a week ago and I attended with good friends Paula, David, and their buddy Mike. As Paula would say, the event is our "Fork-iversary". I met Paula and David at the inaugural Iron Fork event in 2008 and we have been good friends ever since. Awww...
I thought the Iron Fork event last year was fantastic and a HUGE improvement on the failure that was the 2008 event. Unfortunately, the 2010 Iron Fork did not measure up to its predecessor. In my opinion, it sucked.
The event this year was held at a different site which had me skeptical already. I thought a huge reason for the success of the 2009 event was the location at the Bank of America building downtown. It allowed plenty of room, easy access to tables, and even an outdoor area with great views of the city. For 2010, the event was held at Grand Central, a club space that occupies an old rail terminal (or so the story goes) in a gritty section of downtown. The venue was much smaller than the BoA building and everything felt crammed. They did have a tented area outdoors with booths and music but the music was way too loud and you had to yell to have a conversation.
We got there early with passes that let us in at 6pm, an hour before the main crowd was let in. We met up with our good friend Chef John Critchley, Executive Chef at Area 31 who was defending his title as Iron Fork Champion against Jose Luis Flores, Sous Chef for De Rodriguez Cuba. Chef Critchley joined us as we picked up a few beers and inspected the tables for some good eats. Unfortunately, there weren't many to be found. The only standouts for me were a mango barbecued pork offered by Chef Allen's, a tuna tartar by Gibraltar, and a short rib offered by The Grill on the Alley. Whisk Gourmet also did a great pulled pork w/ southern slaw and cornbread and laughed when I called them out for repeating last year's dish. Hey, if it works, it works. Most other offerings were pretty weak. If you wanted sushi you had about 8 freakin options. Cupcakes? About 5 or 6 options (at least it seemed like that many). Indoors got crazy crowded once the majority of the rumored 1200 attendees arrived. It was impossible to get to certain areas at that point. The outdoor tent was basically all bar food - wings, sandwiches, and an inferior frita from El Rey de las Fritas. Let me repeat, when it comes to fritas - El Mago es El Rey!!
It was hot as hell inside the venue too. Some sushi restaurant passed out little fans that some appreciated. I stayed cool with Famosa beer until they ran out at about 8:30pm, a mere 1.5 hours after the main crowd arrived. I guess bribing the beer girl for whole bottles rather than little cups paid off in the short term but cut the supply short in the long run. Oh well, just an excuse to have the smokin' hot chicks from Bombay Sapphire saunter over with some refreshments, one of the few highlights of the night.
The battle for the title of Iron Fork Champ finally got underway and was interesting. Chef Allen was a pretty good MC and Chef Critchley even busted out some liquid nitrogen for a dish but the panel unfortunately chose Chef Flores as champ. Kudos to Chef Flores. Both chefs produced dishes that sounded very tasty. Honestly, I would've been surprised if they picked Chef Critchley as champ two years in a row. Just doesn't seem like they would want the same dude winning year after year. Either way, it looked like the chefs had fun competing and both put on a good show for the crowd.
We bailed on the event after the competition. Honestly, had it not been that my friend was competing on stage I'd have exited at 7pm, a mere hour after arriving. There just wasn't much to see, taste, or learn about and the offerings were very weak. Hopefully the 2011 Iron Fork is a much better event.
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