In what turned out to be one of the closest Chef Fights Orange County has ever seen, Challenger Chef James Harris, Executive Chef of The Royal Hawaiian in Laguna Beach, defeated Defending Champion Chef Nicola (Nick) Bellazzi, chef/owner of Enne Cucina Italiana in San Clemente, last night at the Orange County Sunday Night Chef Fight at the Standards of Excellence showroom in Huntington Beach.
Watch the announcement of the winner at last night’s Sunday Night Chef Fight:
Both chefs delighted an excited crowd of 46 hungry foodies with their inventive cuisines and unique personalities, as they presented an array of dishes that utilized the three base ingredients of shrimp, mushrooms, and brown bread, as well as the mystery ingredient of cinnamon, which was revealed to them only two days before the Chef Fight.
As Defending Champion, Chef Bellazzi elected to cook first and used all but 25 seconds of his 35 minute time limit to finish and present an ambitious series of five dishes. Bellazzi’s cuisine exemplified his pan-Italian cooking and utilized all four ingredients in four out of five of his dishes.
Bellazzi began with an Italian-style wheat-bread snack sandwich (handed out picnic-style wrapped in white paper) with a filling of Portobello mushrooms, oven-baked shrimp marinated in garlic and olive oil, and a brandy cinnamon mayonnaise spread. He then offered a velvety cream of shrimp soup with dark sweet bread croutons and beech mushrooms sprinkled with cinnamon. Next up was a baked Cremini mushroom stuffed with bay shrimp, cinnamon, Procini mushrooms, and whole grain bread crumbs and topped with a whole Mexican tiger shrimp. That was followed by Fusilli pasta with bay shrimp, Shitake mushroom, and cinnamon and brown bread mini-balls in a fresh tomato sauce. Finally for dessert, Chef Nick offered his take on a classic Tiramisu made with dark sweet bread soaked in cinnamon espresso and covered with mascarpone cream and cocoa powder.
After the audience had tasted and judged Chef Bellazzi’s creations, Chef Harris stepped into the kitchen and used every last second of his time limit to present four dishes that showcased his Pan-Hawaiian influences and those of his restaurant.
His Amuse Bouche was actually a Mai Tai cocktail, spiked with cinnamon-infused rum, followed by a wild mushroom bruschetta of Chanterelle, Oyster, and Maitake mushrooms dusted with thyme and pecorino cheese. Next Harris served up seared New Caledonian Blue Prawns in a Togarashi rub, finished with pickled vegetable Ponzu sauce and soba noodles. Finally, for his dessert, Harris served up cinnamon-scented wheat and macerated mango bread pudding, which many audience members agreed was the best dish of the evening.
After the audience had the opportunity to taste and score Chef Harris’s dishes, it was time to reveal the results. Bellazzi took the Creativity category 222 to 216, while Chef Harris won the Appearance category 217 to 213. It all came down to Taste, where Chef Harris emerged victorious by an impressive score of 231 to 215, taking home the Orange County Sunday Night Chef Fight trophy and the title of Defending Champion Chef of Orange County.
As Defending Champion, Chef Harris will return to defend his title at the next Orange County Sunday Night Chef Fight on Sunday, November 6st at the Standards of Excellence showroom in Huntington Beach, facing off against a challenger chef to be named later this month.