The Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament, a summer long single-elimination culinary competition, featuring 16 local restaurants and chef teams has begun. The tournament, which began in 2010, has moved back to Baltimore City this year, and found a new home at Mari Luna Bistro (1225 Cathedral Street, Baltimore, MD 21201) right in the heart of the cultural district. I am also excited to be back on the judging panel again this year after I took a “maternity” leave from judging.
This year’s tournament looks to be the best year yet, and has some exciting new features to offer guests, all included with their admission:
- Each week of the tournament will feature a geographic region. Chef teams will be required to keep that theme as they create and prepare an appetizer, entrée and dessert using featured products from tournament sponsors.
- Happy Hour will include wine and spirit tasting each evening, with different vintners and distributors hosting and bringing some interesting and different things to try each week, like a Tequila tasting and a Punch Bowl tasting, as well as traditional wine tasting.
- Happy Hour will also include hors d’ouerves prepared by Mari Luna Bistro using featured products from some of the tournament’s top sponsors.
- A dessert bar and coffee will be provided at the end of each evening throughout the competition.
I was back again to judge on Monday, July 19th with Jeff Keeney from The Point in Fells versus Christopher Lewis from The Iron Bridge Wine Company for Battle Italy.
Chef Keeney started working in hotels in Reno at a young age, and says his real passion started when he moved to Florida and trained at the Ritz Carlton. "Working on cruise-ships gave me a unique perspective on flavor profiles and international cuisines", he says. Chef Keeney says what makes him a unique chef is "personality and how it is conveyed through my cooking". Chef Keeney is most proud of cooking home-ground black bear burgers with Jack Daniels and maple smoked bacon strips topped with chipotle gouda cheese. "I'm particularly proud of this home project because I got to create all components from the beginning, from actually hunting the bear to smoking the bacon, its how cooking was meant to be". His Sous Chef was Brendan McKinney.
Chef Lewis graduated from the Pennsylvania Culinary Art Program in 1999. He completed his externship at the Milton Inn in Sparks, Maryland, later becoming their Sous Chef. In order to expand his knowledge of various cuisine, Chef Lewis worked as Sous Chef at Linwood’s as well as Executive Chef at The Brass Elephant. After his time at the Brass Elephant, he moved on to the DC restaurant scene working at 701 Restaurant and Againn Tavern. Chef Lewis joined Iron Bridge Wine Company in 2011, and his love of food is evident in his unique use of local ingredients and "from scratch" philosophy. His Sous Chef was Lee Marziale Jr.
This was battle Italy featuring the following products:
- Veal hip sirloin, veal hangar and, veal short ribs from Marcho Farms
- Cerignola red olives, Farro semi-pearled umbria, Castelvetrano pitted olives, and balsamic vinegar from Roland Foods
- La marzano tomato from Manzo Food
- Sardinian crisp bread with evo and Camp Corto from DeMedici
- Fontana prosciutto and agriform Grana Padono cheese from Atalanta
- Italian hot sausage from Logan Sausage
- Burrata cheese from BelGioso
Both teams did some great work with all the ingredients but Chef Jeff Keeney from The Point in Fells won with the following dishes:
- Appetizer: caul fat wrapped lollipop pork chops with a basil and pineapple emulsion
- Entrée: Peruvian pork risotto with trio of Hispanic sauces
- Dessert: Dulce de leche bread pudding with bruleed plantains and figs
The original field of 16 top area chefs is now down to just the four semi-finalists: Iron Bridge Wine Company (Columbia), The Point in Fells (Fells Point), Gourmet Again (Pikesville), and Bond Street Social (Baltimore).
If you’ve been waiting to come out and see this unique competition live, now’s the time, with just three matches left in this summer long competition and tickets going fast! 10% of each ticket sold goes directly to Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, the competition’s charity partner.
Tickets are available for purchase at: www.masondixonmasterchef.com