Four of Nashville’s most decorated chefs competed in the Scene’s seventh annual Iron Fork Competition last night, and PRB’s owners Chris Carter and James Peisker were the first ever chef team.
“I know what he’s good at, and he knows what I’m good at…” James said on the morning of the competition, “We’re very familiar with each other in the kitchen and we trust each other. I’m feeling pretty confident.”
Over two dozen local Nashville restaurants showed up to the event, offering hungry ticket-holders the opportunity to sample a variety of small bites, sip on an assortment of crafty cocktails, and all the while manage to keep one eye on the big screen as the culinary action heated up.
Although the trademark “allez cuisine!” from Iron Chef America’s Mark Dacascos was missing when the competition commenced, the excitement and energy in the room felt similarly as spirited, and our friend Jesse Goldstein helped keep the spirits high as he emceed the event and had a nerve-calming bourbon moment with team PRB.
With four chefs competing in Nashville’s version of this culinary faceoff—instead of the traditional one-on-one battle that takes place on the Food Network’s famed show—each chef (or chef team in our case) blindly chose a number, which would dictate the order in which they were to present their dish. Against Chris and James were Lockeland Table’s Hal Holden-Bache, The 404’s Matt Bolus, and Kristen Gregory of Firefly Grille.
Freshly clad in brand new denim-and-brown PRB embroidered aprons, the butcher boys wound up with lucky #1, meaning they would begin cooking first, they served their creation to the judges before they were totally kaled out, and then they just got to sit back, have a drink, and watch as the rest of their competitors continued to sweat. It was pretty toasty in there.
As soon as the secret ingredient was announced, Chris and James began formulating a plan and then quickly grabbed the pantry items they would need to really kale it in the competition—so many kaler punning opportunities immediately arose.
And they were off!
Before anyone could weave through the crowd to find their cooking station, Chris and James had already finished expertly slicing and dicing, while neighboring chef Hal Holden-Bache looked on with eyes that had doubled in size. Bet you didn’t think them butchers would have such quick and precise knife work on a little ole shallot, didja, Hal?
The pine nuts were toasting, shallots sautéing, Chris was pulsing kale in the Vitamix, James was whisking butter over the stovetop, and then it suddenly came together: Creamy Kale Risotto with Butter-Poached Shrimp, and a Fresh Kale Salad.
I mean, come on.
In keeping the most common criticisms from Iron Chef in mind, the butcher boys made an effort to truly “celebrate kale,” using it as the flavor foundation for their dish. The earthy flavor and green color were pronounced and vibrant in the risotto, while the raw kale salad on top provided a textural contrast and expressed the beauty of the ingredient’s pure form. Plus, three Gulf shrimp added a pop with both their contrasting pink color and their sweet, buttery flavor.
The odds were all in their favor: Chris and James went first; the dish was plated beautifully; the green and pink color scheme was eye-catching; Vivek (on the panel of judges) went back for seconds of dish #1 (our risotto) after tasting dish #2; and the creamy kale risotto wasn’t just a celebration of kale, it was like the Kale Jubilee.
We had it in the bag.
Or so we thought.
In the end, it was Hal Holden-Bache of Lockeland Table who took home the coveted Golden Fork. His New Zealand rack of lamb served atop a potato kale hash and topped with a fresh kale salad somehow managed to surpass team PRB’s magnificent kale risotto by just two measly points, as we later came to find.
While their hearts fell heavy in their chests, disappointed at yet another second place finish, Chris and James shook hands with the victor and then simply took to the bourbon bottle in to continue the festivities of the evening. On the bright side, Chris made away with half a case of wine and a pint of Four Roses when the night concluded, so not all was lost.
Who really wants a silly ol trophy anyway?
We want to give a huge “thank you” to the Nashville Scene for putting on such a fun and delicious event, and for including the chefs of Porter Road Butcher in the competition! Additionally, big thanks to our amazing sous-chefs from the Art Institute for keeping us cool in the heat of the kitchen. We had a great time and hope to be invited back in the future!