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Street Food Showdown

Culinary Fight Club's Food Sport Battle Crowns Local Home Chef

Article by Stephen Neilson

Photography by Stephen Neilson

Originally published in SW Lake Lifestyle

His dramatic jet-black chef’s apron boldly stated in all-white, all-caps: BEST. DAD. EVER.

His black cap just as proudly proclaimed: PROUD ARMY DAD.

Turns out this family man and home-cook-par-excellence knows how to swing a mean cleaver, as Chef Lone Luangsomkham smote his fellow Food Sport competitors mightily, claiming the first place trophy at the recent Street Food Showdown in Long Grove.

The event, produced by Culinary Fight Club (CFC) at Woodfire Tavern, attracted an enthusiastic crowd braving the early-event rain to watch eight chefs wrestle for ingredients in the Whole Foods-sponsored pantry and prepare their dishes within 60 minutes. Some attendees ducked out of the rain to enjoy the open bar in the VIP tent, and threw down some coin for the smartly-designed CFC merchandise. Event proceeds helped support the charity Fight2Feed, a volunteer-run organization fighting hunger in Chicago, Kansas City, and Atlanta.

It’s been a celebratory few weeks for Chef Lone’s family, as daughter Lillian recently embarked on her college journey at Drake University, and Lone and wife Lisa celebrated their 24th wedding anniversary. Chef Lone loves to cook for families, learning from his mom as a child; he specializes in Laotian and Asian-infused cooking, recalling his first dish made at age 12—papaya salad. His winning plate was a beautifully-presented Laotian dish called “larb,” a spicy combining vegetables, greens, and herbs with the“required ingredient” of this Street Food Showdown: a plant-based shrimp from event co-sponsor New Wave Foods. Judge Margie Luczak, Chicago Police Department (and last-year's first-place-winning Chef) commented, "I love the color... I mean, am I on vacation?... the chips: awesome... the spice: right on! I love it." Lone’s winnings included a trophy, $400 cash, and a competition slot in the Season IX Championship event: Culinary Fight Fest, October 15 at Chicago’s McCormick Place.

Third-place finisher Victor Martinez of Unite Here Chicago Culinary Institute prepared a fire-roasted salsa with pineapple and shrimp. Second Place was won by Marc Anthony Griffin, Chef/Owner of Que’ Pasta, a local food-truck-and-catering business combining two great cuisines, Mexican and Italian. Marc brings his creative fusion concept to local breweries and special events throughout the western and northern suburbs.

Taster’s Choice winner (selected by event attendees, aka “Fight Clubbers”) was Michael Kubalewski, Executive Chef/Owner of MK Culinary and Dank Morsels Gourmet Street Food, a food truck that serves at local events and concerts, including Dead & Co. and Dave Matthews Band. Chef Mike’s first Shrimp Elote (Mexican street corn) wowed the crowd.

CFC’s events bring together people who love to cook-and-create with those who love to watch intense competition and taste the culinary fruits of the chef’s labors. Competitors sign up on the group’s website, CulinaryFightClub.com; they cover the full gamut from restaurant executive chefs to skilled home cooks.

The “Cheferee” makes sure each competitor follows the rules, uses only allowed food products and all mandatory ingredients, and prepares and plates everything within the strict one-hour timeline. This event’s Cheferee was Kris Schoenberger of BBQ’d Productions in Lake Zurich.

Judges follow a 50-point scoring system ranking dishes on Execution, Appearance, Creativity, and Taste. Execution includes event-specific elements; for Street Food Challenge, a key element was portability—the ability to handle/consume the dish on-the-go. Taste is weighted highest, as a beautifully-plated dish won’t cut it if it doesn’t leave you wanting more.

According to Jiwon McCartney, Executive Producer and a founder of CFC,“We challenge our community to be healthier and hopefully inspire our audience to cook through our events.”  Competitors and audience of Culinary Fight Club should know that “this isn’t a carnival show; it’s about Food Sport, with all the exciting components of competition as a major league sport. You need to know how to use a knife quickly, work with improvised ingredients… cooking is a sport. There are lots of TV shows out there to show us cooking, but much of what they don’t show us is the arduous tasks of prepping, cooking and cleaning, which for some can be a deal breaker. At Culinary Fight Club, we show it all, live, and that it can be done with limited ingredients and time. But in a competition, anyone can have a bad day, and anyone can have a great day. You’re only as good as your last plate.”

Event Judge Claire Slattery (Lake Zurich Chamber Executive Director) commented: “It was great to experience the diversity of culinary talent in our area. Seeing the passion among the chefs, all shooting for one goal…to make something truly creative. I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon.”

Tickets are available for the season-ending Culinary Fight Fest championship event at Eventbright, CulinaryFightClub.com, or on Facebook at Facebook.com/CulinaryFightClub. Save 20% on admission with promotional code SWCityLife.

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