Stumbling across a food fight
The Southern Food and Beverage Museum (housed alongside the Museum of the American Cocktail) sits in Central City, New Orleans. During the day, it is as the name implies - a repository of all sorts of weird and wonderful food exhibits, by night, it becomes a fight site.
It doesn’t happen every night, but I was lucky enough to stumble across a fight club night – culinary fight club, that is. Five chefs bravely took to their cooktops to prepare and deliver a street food meal for the judges within the 60-minute time limit. The chefs were armed with the requisite few ingredients that must be used (including pre-cooked sausages) and a brief to produce street food, that is, food that could be sold for a few dollars and from a food truck.
The night kicked off with a 60-second scramble over the ‘pantry’ table to secure a few more extra ingredients; then the chefs took to their stations to chop, sweat (not just the food), and sauté.
Fighting for good
Similar to the reality TV shows in as much as it was a food competition, it was miles away from the fake, choreographed TV event designed to drive ratings. This was real. Culinary Fight Club was about chefs being chefs in a high energy environment, spectators were able to see, hear, and taste the process, and the resulting creations, and then vote for who they thought had the winning creation on the night.
Importantly though, this was an event to raise money and awareness of Fight2Feed: a US charity that rescues food and prepares meals for those who are food insecure. It is no small task; according to Fight2Feed over 12% of Americans are from households where not all members have access to enough food to lead a healthy life.
There was a depth and generosity to the event that you wouldn’t associate with the narcisstic TV versions. This was about dedicated folk, doing what they do best, having a bit of fun, providing some entertainment, and helping a good cause.
High energy, high stress but great spirits
A take-home for me was that a lot of the great work being done in the food industry happens at the chef level. These are the people who ultimately understand ingredients and who understand the consumer. The chefs at the Fight Club event were young, passionate and spirted; the audience, primed with actual spirits, were supportive, engaged and enthusiastic.