The FTC wants you to know: I am a member of the Everywhere Society. Everywhere has provided me with compensation for this post about Macy’s Culinary Council. As always, the views expressed are my very own.
It was a stunning blue-sky day in the Pacific Northwest. A perfect day to go play in the mall parking lot. Sounds crazy I know, but that is exactly what we did last weekend!
I wasn’t sure what we were going to find when we headed out the door for the Macy’s County Fair. Our destination was the “Great American Grilling Guru Sizzle Showdown” but in addition to the cooking competition, we found a whole parking lot full of family friendly fun. We were beyond delighted with all the festivities. Not only was it free but we snagged a $10 gift card good through the month of June (I turned it into a new sweater on Monday).
I was particularly pleased that while Macy’s was clearly sponsoring the event, and promoting the Friends and Family Sale inside the store, they did a nice job of creating an authentic community centered fair (as opposed to a gimmicky commercial). Even though I came home with sizzled shoulders I hope Macy’s repeats the fair next year. Our family would probably go again.
The Sizzle Showdown!
There was no question that the main event of the day was “Macy’s Great American Grilling Guru Sizzle Showdown.” The event in Lynnwood was one of five regional semi-finals held across the country. Thousands of entrants were narrowed down to three per semi-final and the final five will head off to compete head-to-head for $10,000 in New York on June 28th.
- Jack Scalfani from Anaheim, California; Mama’s Teriyaki Short Ribs
- Margee Berry from White Salmon, WA; Smokin’ Hot Summer Wood Planked Shrimp Tacos with Seared Slaw
- Edwina Gadsby from Hayden, Idaho; Sweet Chili Salmon Noodle Salad
Finding the event was a matter of following our noses. Plumes of sweet applewood smoke billowed up from below the grill of sometimes Top Chef Judge, Iron Chef Battle Champion, and owner of 10 (soon to be 15!) area restaurants, Seattle’s own Celebrity Chef, Tom Douglas.
Interesting sidebar: During the witty banter portion of the competition Chef Douglas shared that Iron Chef is the only cooking competition he has ever entered. At the final judging he became the second chef ever to best senior Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. Not too shabby.
Chef Douglas represented the Macy’s Culinary Council as judge for the Grilling Guru dishes. To our delight he also grilled up two dishes of his own for the audience. Recently I have heard grumbling on-line saying celebrity chefs don’t actually cook. Well folks, the man can cook. I watched him carefully tend that grill and the results spoke for themselves.
For this long-time watcher of television cooking competitions it was fun to have a front row seat for the live version. The three cooks put their heads down and did what they do best: cook. It was a little disappointing to have the work stations at the back of the stage. We were able to see the grilling but all the other cooking and preparing was done with their backs to the audience. While they worked the competitors were all business. I was able to chat with all of them before and after and learned that Margee and Edwina are actually friends from over a decade of entering the same cooking competitions.
Our emcee, Seth Wayne from KOMO 4 television, tried to keep the audience engaged during the hour of cooking. He quizzed a number of people with Macy’s trivia mostly related to the Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Cool Trivia: The Herald Square store in Manhattan was the first building to be built with a modern escalator. The wooden escalator dates back to 1902 and is still in use today. (see pictures)
The good sports were rewarded with things like silly Macy’s swag, snacks, or brand spanking new copies of the Dahlia Bakery Cookbook. When he ran out of trivia the remaining prizes were given to anyone who gave Seth an enthusiastic wave. In between the trivia Seth chatted with Chef Douglas, and Chef Douglas chatted with the competitors. For those paying close attention there were little grilling tips peppered throughout the conversations.
Tip from Chef Douglas: Before grilling take your protein out of the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature. 15 minutes for shrimp, 30 minutes for salmon and 1 hour for ribs. Remember, the health department considers meat to be safe when left out for up to four hours prior to cooking.
It looked to me that all three cooks were wrapped up by about the 45 minute mark and just held their dishes for the final fifteen minutes. When time was called, each competitor presented their completed dish to Chef Douglas for judging. As you might imagine this was the most fun for the audience. He seemed to genuinely enjoy the process of evaluating the appearance of each dish and made sure to let the audience see each plate.
Jack’s ribs were declared expertly cooked. Chef Douglas was impressed that they stayed pink at the bone after such a long cooking time. He also appreciated the flavorful caramelization on the outside of the ribs and the beautifully grilled onion that was served along side.
Margee was complimented for her light hand in grilling the tortillas for her tacos but he felt the mayo in her salad over powered the flavor of the shrimp. He also wished she had left the shrimp whole rather than chopping them. (Later she said the decision to chop the shrimp was intended to make the tacos easier to bite. In hindsight she also wished she had left them whole.)
Edwina received the highest praise anyone can get from a Pacific Northwest chef, her salmon was declared “perfectly cooked.” Speaking as a Northwesterner who has refused salmon in restaurants I really appreciated that he followed up the compliment by holding up a large piece of the salmon so the audience could see that it was cooked through but still deep orange and buttery in the center. He enjoyed the noodle salad but thought she could have been a little more aggressive with her use of fish sauce in the dressing.
For her perfect salmon, Edwina was awarded the win. She was so surprised it was adorable to watch her reaction. I think both of the ladies guessed the win would go to Jack’s ribs. They were beautifully cooked and the drool inducing perfume of his sweet soy marinade certainly trumped the seafood but I think his choice to offer only a grilled onion on the side may have worked against his overall dish.
As the crowd broke up I joined several other bloggers, including Heather of United States of Motherhood, in the competition area. We snapped pictures of the finished dishes and chit-chatted with Jack and Margee. Margee was worried that all the extra food she cooked would go to waste and invited us to dig in. We did not need to be asked twice! We grabbed tasting forks and did our duty in sampling, evaluating, and making sure food was not wasted.
Oh my oh my oh my! Margee’s plank grilled shrimp all by themselves were stellar. The spices were well balanced and made my lips tingle without coating my mouth with heat. I ate two, maybe three and would have scarfed an entire plate if no one else had been looking.
The perfectly cooked salmon was just as Chef Douglas said but honestly I felt like it fell a bit short. Yes it was perfectly cooked and that is a notable achievement but the seasoning didn’t sing like Margee’s shrimp marinade. The noodle salad was another story. We all went back for more. I could see where the dressing could have used a little more fish sauce funk but even at room temperature it was so fresh and lively it balanced the rich oiliness of the salmon extremely well. I didn’t try any of the ribs but they were gorgeous and the aroma really did make my mouth water.
Edwina’s win was well deserved and, especially on a day that was a scorcher by Pacific Northwest standards, it was exactly the sort of light and vibrant meal I’d like to eat. I think if Margee had served her shrimp whole and the slaw without the mayo she could have taken home the win. Although she and Jack did get to leave with a $500 gift card runner up prize. From my perspective there were certainly no losers among the competitors (though I can’t say the runners up didn’t feel the sting of defeat).
By the way, Jack has a YouTube cooking show you might enjoy, Cooking with Jack, “A cooking show for the average Joe.” He’s got quite the archive of recipes, reviews, and foodie field trips. When we chatted he was about to go hang out with the guys behind Skillet truck in Seattle so I imagine there is a new video with them coming soon.