Saying that I'm competitive is an understatement. I friggin' thrive on eating people alive in culinary combat. There's something so alluring and addicting about the potential of winning a contest. Trust me, I've had my share of losses. I have much to celebrate in the recipes that I created and the friends that I've made. What happens after winning?
The Takedowns are a Brooklyn-based cooking competition series that celebrates home cooks and amateur chefs. Each edition focuses on a specific ingredient like bacon, lobster and lamb or format like chili, fondue, meatball, ice cream, cookies and, even homebrew beer. Alumni have had different paths after graduating from this circuit. Theo Peck opened a restaurant, Linda Sarris travels the world as a private chef, Nicole Taylor wrote The Up South Cookbook, Cathy Erway has a James Beard-nominated podcast, and I wrote Showdown—a book about my experiences in these contests. Many people who participate have other jobs and enter for the hell of it!
Lucky for me, I have the opportunity to judge The Takedowns sometimes. It's so wonderful to see brand new cooks jump in, head-first, into battle. Here are a few things that I've learned over the past ten years of competing and judging.
- Matt Timms insists that there are no rules. That means you can make anything as long as it uses the featured ingredient or format.
- You do not need experience to enter. In fact, we highly encourage home cooks and amateur chefs to join. There is no fee to participate.
- You can spend as much or as little money as you want on your entry. It just hurts when you spend money on porcinis, only to lose in the end. Sometimes an ingredient may be provided for you.
- Make enough food. For chili, the recommended amount is 2 gallons. Other categories recommend 200 to 250 bites. Remember, they're bites, not full portions. Attendees and judges are eating up to 30 entries.
- There are two types of prizes: people's choice and judge's. Ticket holders for the event will vote on their favorites and 1st, 2nd and 3rd place are awarded. 3 to 4 judges will also be tasting and will award 1st, 2nd, 3rd and honorable mentions.
- You can invite your friends, but it's not cool to tell them to vote for you. Give everyone a fair shot and encourage your friends to try everything.
- Matt asks everyone to arrive 30 to 45 minutes before the doors open. 1 hour doesn't hurt either!
- Ensure that you can travel with your dish. You don't want to be like me, lugging a vat of chili without a lid into a NYC cab. Try using a cooler and always double wrap anything liquidy.
- For hot dishes, you will get a large sterno foil tray with water in it. You nest the second provided tray in it to create a steam bath. Bring foil if you need your dish to be covered throughout the afternoon.
- You will be provided with enough sample cups to serve your dish. Bring any ladles, spoons or tools you need to get the food into the cups.
- Sharpie! Always have a sharpie. You will need to label your plastic cups when you arrive so that guests will know to vote for you.
- Hundreds of people will be walking by to taste your food, prepare a quick sentence that describes your dish. Signage is not required but helps people with allergies identify if they can eat your food or not.
- You will be asked to get up on the stage and announce which dish and number entry you had.
- When the winners are announced, don't be nervous. You are great for making it this far!
- Showboating and heckling are a pet peeves of mine, it's unsportsmanlike. Be a team player and celebrate other people's dishes. You're allowed to enjoy your win but don't jump on any tables like Bobby Flay did against Iron Chef Morimoto.
- Reduce food waste by bringing plasticware or zipper bags to keep any leftovers.
- Write your recipe! Scale it down to dinner-time size and save it. You can share it on a blog or social media, too. Whether you won or not, you made something that was yours! Who knows? You might write a book about it.
Head to TheTakedowns.com to find out when you can compete!
Did this guide help you? Let me know!