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Culinary Fight Club Tastebud Challenge: Chicago Style BBQ



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I hinted at this in Friday’s post, but when I was writing that post, I was on my way to a really great foodie event in the West Loop: Culinary Fight Club’s Taste Challenge : Chicago Style BBQ. Let’s just say that it was right up my alley 😀

What is Culinary Fight Club?

Culinary Fight Club Chicago Trophy

Basically, CFC is Chopped + Iron Chef + Top Chef in real life and where you get to eat allthefoods at the end. And enjoy an open bar for 2 hours. 

The event was held in the beer garden of the Chicago Marriott in the Medical District, and it began as the perfect setting, but it was COLD before long. Had it been about 5-10 degrees warmer, it would have been perfection. It was like we were at a backyard house party! The restaurant within, Rooks Corner, provided passed apps of mini bbq and beef sliders, pizzas, and bruschetta, which attempted to hold us over (we were hunnnnngry).

What is the Purpose of Culinary Fight Club?

A perfectly cooked pork chop sample.

A perfectly cooked pork chop sample.

CFC has a multipronged mission:

  • To expose the public and foodies to various cuisines and new, exciting flavors
  • To show that anyone can compete–new and established chefs from all around–seriously, anyone can apply.
  • Fun.
  • To benefit Fight2Feed–where restaurants and food trucks contribute to fight hunger around Chicago. Let’s stop wasting food and give it to people who need it! 

Furthermore, the chefs compete to get a golden ticket to compete in the World Food Championships!

How do the Tastebud Competitions Work?

Culinary Fight Club Tastebud Challenge Chefs

  • Three chefs go head to head with the help of a sous chef.
  • They bring their protein and can bring a spice blend.
  • They have 60 seconds to raid a pantry of 15 ingredients
  • Followed by 90 minutes (this one was special, typically they have 60 minutes) of cooking time at a set up kitchen (they got to bring their own grills/smokers). And they get one 10,000 BTU burner.
  • All of this is for 4 judges (including 1 guest judge pulled from the crowd) as well as the rest of us!

So the Fight is On, Now What?

Me, Megan, and Kathryn (of FoodieGirlChicago!)

Me, Megan (of Zomato), and Kathryn (of FoodieGirlChicago!)

While they cooked, we imbibed and mingled! Sam Adams was a sponsor for the event, so we got some great summer backyard-bbq drinking options: Summer Ale, Angry Orchard Crisp Apple, Twisted Tea and Twisted Lemonade, and the two that I went after, the Curious Traveler Lemon Shandy and Illusive Traveler Grapefruit Shandy. (How much do you love the packaging!)

Curious Traveler Lemon Shandy

I loved the lemon shandy–refreshing and not too sweat!–and I liked the grapefruit shandy–even more refreshing, with grapefruit right up front, but none of the bitterness of grapefruit juice. I would definitely recommend both! Wine was also served, but I was occupied. 

Culinary Fight Club Chicago Bacon

Not to worry, we got PLENTY of food! 

The Culinary Contenders

Chef Phil Wingo, Pitmaster @ Porkmafia

Culinary Fight Club Chicago Phil

Phil is a pitmaster, and his approach shone through. Also, I have to say that he was the only of the chefs to really address Chicago Style BBQ (a little sweet, lingering, building heat, and tomato base). Also, he brought some of the most giant pork chops that I have ever seen in my life, and he somehow managed to cook them perfectly. HIs final dish? Giant house-sauce glazed pork chop, bacon wrapped chicken, double potato (mash plus chunks of grilled/charred potato), and carrot, onion, and something else awesome slaw. You better believe I got extra slaw. 

HOLY CRAP. I still don’t understand how he cooked that chop so perfectly. And the bacon, chicken, were just delicious and had just as much flavor as the chop and a fabulous char. Also, I’m obsessed with the slaw. Actually obsessed. 

Chef Tripp Rion, Tripp Rion Consulting, Inc

Culinary Fight Club Chicago BBQ

In my mind, this wasn’t Chicago Style BBQ. This was more southeastern style coastal cuisine. A take on a surf and turf, with a giant pork sausage (TWSS), shrimp, collards with pork and pickled onions, and whipped grits. Basically, my mom’s dream. I thought this was very tasty, but not bbq. I loved the collards and the onion–the pickling and abrupt shift from the very savory other pieces lent perfect balance to the savory aspect of the other ingredients. And, because the collards hadn’t been able to cook for a really long time, they still had some crunch and texture, which I appreciated. I’m not a big grits person, but I thought that these were very good. More like a polenta than grits as I know them.

Chef Brian Jupiter, Executive Chef, Frontier Chicago

(He plated a bit differently, so I never saw the finished product, just tasted the components in sample cups)

The last to present, Chef Brian had a delicious, full of flavor offering but this also wasn’t BBQ, in my opinion. Pork belly and sweet potato mash with peas. (I couldn’t see very well because it had gotten so dark outside, so I wish I could tell you more!). Chef Brian was the only one to utilize a smoker, and the smoke that he incorporated into the meat was really decadent. I feel like the meat wasn’t as perfectly cared for as Phil’s, though–one of the two pieces I got was far superior to the other, but I think that it was a slightly different cut. The mash was as decadent as you can imagine, and the addition of the peas was on. point. That little burst of fresh in the midst!

The Verdict


Culinary Fight Club Chicago BBQ

They were all great, and in my mind, not fair to be judged against each other for the contest simply because they only one of the chefs did true Chicago BBQ! The others were coastal cuisine and southern comfort food. I’d be happy with any of them, but I would have disqualified them (and then confiscated the entries). Phil’s was my favorite, though, and the favorite of the judges as well! Congrats, Phil, you are going to the World Food Championships!

Top Chef in real life! Check out how @ChefFight throws down #Chicago #fitfluential via @suzlyfe Click To Tweet

Have you ever been to a food competition? 

Regardless of the style of BBQ they were going for, which dish sounds best to you?

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