Cafe Society

Westword crowns Mile High Chef competition winner at Menu Affair

The winning chef: James Mazzio.

If you missed this year’s Westword Menu Affair at the Fillmore, you’re a dolt. Thirty bucks, open bar, free grub and the chance to see two of Denver’s best chefs -- Goose “Batali” Sorensen from Solera and Big Jimmy Mazzio from Via -- squaring off in a no-holds-barred culinary death-match. Seriously, what did you have to do on Wednesday night that was better than that?

Anyway, those of you who were there know exactly what happened. But for you troglodytes who missed it, never fear. I’m here for you, and here’s a run-down of how the contest played out.

First, the chefs were introduced by celebrity guest emcee Keegan Gerhard of D Bar Desserts. Keegan is a good guy, nine feet tall with a smile that can blind dogs at fifty paces, and a hosting machine. He thanked the sponsors, read the rules, introduced the chefs and the judges (me, Troy Guard and a chef-instructor from Cook Street who’d kindly donated two of his students to stand as sous chefs for the competitors), explained to the crowd how everything was going to work, made a couple of jokes and revealed the secret ingredient -- all within about seventeen seconds. Then he kept up a virtually non-stop patter throughout the 45-minute cooking competition, all the while solving quadratic equations in his head, juggling six kittens and drinking repeatedly from a vat of Redbull, dove’s blood and pot-still whiskey that’d been his only demand on agreeing to host the event. Weird, I know. But he made it work. The man is a pro.

The secret ingredient was chorizo, with an additional secret ingredient (Hatch green chiles) thrown in just for fun. Immediately, Batali Sorensen (so-called because he cooks in shorts and clogs and regularly invites former editors of Granta into his kitchen to suffer his terrible rages) started lighting things on fire -- pans, countertops, his sous chef. It was all for show, though, and to psyche out Big Jimmy on the other side, who retaliated by surreptitiously stealing all of Sorenson’s dry stock, his olive oil and, finally, his soul (a feat he was able to accomplish because voodoo rituals were not expressly prohibited by the rules -- an oversight we intend to correct before next year’s competition).

Unlike last year, both competitors actually used the secret ingredient in all of their dishes, which was kind of a drag for the judges because it meant we actually had to pay attention and taste all the food -- unlike in previous years, when we were able to immediately disqualify one of the competitors and then spend the next hour just hanging out, drinking vodka tonics and making fun of Goose Sorensen’s shorts. Still, the chefs did a fine job, each of them creating three dishes that all seemed to feature some combination of chorizo, green chile, beans, chorizo and green chile. About halfway through (just to keep things interesting), we judges offered a five-point bounty for any chef able to do something with an item from the edible flower arrangements that had been set up on stage -- and both men did.

In the end, after six courses of chorizo, Mazzio squeaked out a close win over Sorensen. Thus was he granted the coveted Mile High Chef trophy, the traditional Pepper Mill of Ultimate Victory, the Olive Branch of Immunity (which protects his restaurant from being turned into an Olive Garden for one year from the date of his conquest) and the customary naked back rub from Troy Guard. Sorensen, on the other hand, was led away weeping, gnashing his teeth and vowing bloody revenge on his new nemesis. He was quickly sedated with moose tranquilizers (I never go anywhere without a tranq pistol filled with moose tranquilizers -- you know, for fun). And with that, the 117th Annual Mile High Chef competition came to an end.

So what was it you were doing on Wednesday that sounded better than this?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Maybe next year you’ll tell grandma she can wash her own cats and join us, huh? – Jason Sheehan

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun