Get Excited, Foodies: A Live Underground Chef Battle Starts Monday

No half-million-dollar kitchen equipment, no cheesy commercial breaks, and unless they’re coated in Teflon, no room for pansies.

Brought to you by the Underground Chef Cartel (UCC), this Monday marks the first installment of the Underground Chef Battles.

And you can definitely expect things to get heated.

“There’s a wealth of talent flying under the radar, so we want to dig deep and showcase that underground talent. The battles allow up-and-coming chefs to demonstrate their skill set and hunger against other similar chefs, or even more well-known and established chefs in the industry. Either way, someone will win and someone will lose.”

Devan Rajkumar, Chef Joe Friday, and Chef Nikko Jacino are the founders of the UCC (not to be confused with the antithetical all-boys private school) and in addition to a number of successful pop-ups and culinary exhibitions, these three are now taking a more exciting, competitive approach to promoting the overflowing world of Toronto culinary genius.

The first battle is at Teppan Kenta on Wellesley. Chef Eric Wood of the Maple Leaf Tavern will take on Chef Deron Engbers, formerly of Rock Lobster. At 8pm sharp, the judges will give the chefs their surprise ingredient and from there, it’s exactly one hour until the dishes are plated, judged, and either graciously rewarded or ceremoniously rejected.

For the inaugural event, it’s a judging panel of four: Food blogger & radio/TV personality Abby Sharp, Executive Chef and Owner of Valdez Restaurant, Steve Gonzalez, Owner of Cafe Bar Pasta on Dundas West, Tom Bielecki, and to mix things up, someone randomly selected from the crowd. That’s right, foodies, you might get to say stuff in public like “flavour profile” while you help crown an underground battle champ.

“Toronto is a mecca for chefs, but only what, half a percent of them are being spoken about? Why aren’t these other places being highlighted? There’s more talent than that,” says Bielecki. “But also, some people are getting more hype than they should be.”

This event should sort all that out pretty quickly.

Tickets will be $25 and are first-come-first-serve. After the throw-down, you’ll jump right into a DJ’d soirée where you’ll get to socialize with a ton of the industry’s most active participants and enjoy complimentary appetizers from the chefs of the UCC, a free drink, and entry in a raffle.

More importantly though, aside from opening your eyes to the broad talent this city has to offer, the main event will give you a live, behind-the-scenes glimpse into the competitiveness and stress that comes with working the back of the house. 

“This is all things that encompass ‘pressure’ for these guys and exemplifies the true experience of running a kitchen, but packed into one hour,” says Chef Nikko. “There’s no huge budget here; it’s very raw. And it’s always going to be in a different kitchen, so each location will have its own obstacles. It’s going to really test their skills. Not to mention when we drop the surprise ingredient on them…everyone there will be learning something.”

Well, consider us hungry for knowledge. 

May the best chef win. 

The battles are currently planned to run every other Monday. You can find more info on their Facebook Page and Twitter account.


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