405 Fried Chicken Challenge goes to Favela and The Union Wood-Fired Grill
On Sunday, 11 local chefs gathered to compete in an informal 405 Fried Chicken Challenge, and you can sample the winning dish at Union Wood-Fired Grill for dinner tonight.
The event was the brain-child of chef David Henry of The Hutch on Avondale, who was inspired by the Pastrami Challenge in which he competed at Café 7 last year. That day, chef Kathryn Mathis of Big Truck Tacos/Pizzeria Gusto/Back Door BBQ took home a $1,000 prize put up by fellow chef Brad Johnson of Hal Smith Restaurant Group.
Strong word of mouth landed the pastrami as a special for chef Mathis and her restaurants.
Henry wanted to rekindle the energy from that day and host a gathering at his restaurant, The Hutch on Avondale. The charge to the chefs was simple: Make your best fried chicken, cooked on the bone, and accompany it with your version of white bread, onions and pickles.
My job was to help Henry find a dozen chefs from around the city to compete and judge each other’s chicken. I also reeled in an all-star cast of guest judges. Armed with a dozen iterations of fried chicken created by local chefs is the most effective bait I’ve ever used.
Victoria Kemp from Florence’s Restaurant was in the house. Her restaurant serves my favorite fried chicken, so I knew we needed her point of view. We also had chef Kurt Fleischfresser of Vast and his wife Jayne, Michel Buthion of La Baguette and McClintock's, Josh Valentine of Carlton Landing, Cathy and Sean Cummings of Vito's Italian Ristorante and Sean Cummings Irish Pub, Apollo Woods, (aka OKC Black Eats), Delbert Briggs of The Homeless Alliance, Nathan Poppe of The Curbside Chronicle, and the two Gregs: Elwell and Horton of IateOklahoma.com and 405 Magazine, respectively.
Henry’s wife Chris hosted a table of junior judges, and Alex Kroblin of Thirst Wine Merchants provided bubbles and whites to wash it down along with some beer sent over from Tulsa from American Solera.
Competitors included David Egan of Cattlemen’s, Jonas Favela of The Union Wood-Fired Grill, J Mays of Café 7 and soon-arriving The Hamilton, Bruce Rinehart of Rococo/The Manhattan, Sonya Walker of Goodness on the Go, Ryan Parrott and Chris McKenna of Picasso's, Oso and soon-arriving Frida, Kevin Ward of St. Mark’s Chop Room/En Croute, Brad Johnson of Hal Smith Restaurant Group, Roy Green of Oak and Ore, and Shane Roel of The Hutch on Avondale. Chef Michael Paske jumped in late for fun and did a great job despite running to Whole Foods at the 11th hour and frying up chicken in about an hour.
After the finger-lickin’ was over, chef Jonas Favela and his Buttermilk Fried Chicken with Interesting Spices took top prize.
Chefs served as the first line of judges at chef Henry’s request. When those results were tallied, Favela was neck and neck with hosting chef Shane Roel. But after the tie-breaking guest judges tally was counted, which Favela won handily, Favela was named champion.
But the crown came with a caveat. Henry made clear from the beginning: The winner must put the winning dish on the menu at their restaurant or have a restaurant willing to serve it if only for a day.
No problem for Favela, who put his championship fried chicken on special at The Union on Tuesday, serving it with Granny's Potato Salad, Chile Rojo Corn with feta, flake salt and thyme. (Day-um.)
Sonya Wallker of Goodness on the Go took second on the guest judge ballots just ahead of J Mays. Rinehart’s chicken liver butter and Ward’s fried pickled okra were the best accoutrement we came across.
At the end of the competition, chef Brad Johnson unsheathed his Valyrian-steel checkbook and – as he did on behalf of pastrami – challenged the local chefs community to make a better meatloaf than he does, offering a $1,000 bounty for whomever does it.
All we currently know is it will be a summer affair.
If you are a professional chef who is interested in competing, email firstname.lastname@example.org to throw your hat in the ring. Details will be made available later this month.