How do you Cassoulet? Yesterday, at Jimmy’s No. 43, nine cooks and chefs got together to display their interpretations of this classic French dish at a benefit to raise money for the Greenmarket’s youth programs. The public was invited to taste their creations and to vote for the best-tasting result. Jimmy Carbone had reached out to me to see if I’d be willing to judge the dishes, a task which I happily accepted. On a grey, winter Sunday afternoon in the city, what could be more comforting than a helping of a hearty casserole and a pint of craft beer?
Along with my fellow judges Jackie Gordon from The Diva That Ate New York, Margaret Chen from Savory Sweet Living, Nancy Matsumoto, and Amy Zavatto of Edible Manhattan, we ate our way around the different offerings, made notes, took photos, and compared opinions on what is and isn’t cassoulet. Then, we put our heads together and picked what we thought were the best of the ones that we ate. Matt Timms of The Takedowns announced our results to the crowd. Here’s what the day looked like, plate by plate:
Jimmy’s No. 43: David – Black Bean Cassoulet
This didn’t really strike me as much of a cassoulet as a black bean casserole. When David introduced his dish, he said that he wanted to highlight beans that are indigenous to North America, making this a more native spin on the recipe. It was still a tasty offering and the crunchy topping was a nice complement.
Jimmy’s No. 43: Yojersey – Pinto Bean-Mozzarella Cassoulet
Again, this was also a non-traditional rendition of cassoulet. This version when even further in the direction of classic casserole territory by using pinto beans, having a slightly sweet sauce dotted with burger bun bits and topped with chunks of melted mozzarella. The combination was definitely an interesting one.
Jimmy’s No. 43: Michael – Cassoulet
Sticking a bit truer to what everyone thinks of as a classic cassoulet, Michael from Jimmy’s team produced this deep, rich dish. The flavors were all there, although I wished for a just a little bit more seasoning. It would also have been better if the dish had been served a bit warmer, but that is always one of the challenges of these food events.
Out East Foodie: Laura Luciano – Cassoulet
Starting the process of making her dish two weeks out with putting together a duck confit, Laura Luciano stuck pretty closely to the classic definition of cassoulet. She also made a garlic confit and use the bones from the duck to make a duck stock. The crunchy topping that she added to each plate she handed out added an extra burst of herbs to give every bite a fresh pop of flavor to the creamy, meaty dish.
Iberian Beer United: Jessica Aguillo – Iberian-style Cassoulet
Using butter beans and Iberian products, Jessica Aguillo contributed a Spanish twist to this French classic. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get my hands on a plate of this entry, as it was completely wiped out by the time I got to her table. I heard from several of my fellow judges that the dish had a wonderful flavor to it.
Mighty Quinn’s: Hugh Mangum – BBQ & Burnt Ends
As a cassoulet, this wasn’t it. As pretty delicious, nicely spiced barbecue beans with smoky, chewy burnt ends, this was a great dish. I really enjoyed it and look forward to having it again the next time I’m on line waiting for one of their equally enticing brisket sandwiches.
Rich Pinto Catering: Rich Pinto – Vegetarian Cassoulet
I know, you’re thinking, “What? This cannot be considered a cassoulet in any way, shape, or form!” Hang on there for a second. This dish captured all the aromas, fragrances, depth, and warmth of this French classic, just without having any meat. The roasted carrots and parsnips added that earthy dimension that sausages normally fill. The fact that Rich had finished it off with some Ronnybrook Farm butter at the end, as he mentioned to a few of us, didn’t hurt it a bit either.
Patricia Clark Catering: Patricia Clark – Cassoulet
Presenting a more Italian spin on this French dish, Patricia Clark used cannellini beans and Great Northern beans in her version of cassoulet. She also started her preparations in advance by roasting and making a confit of duck legs as well as making a duck stock. She added a dash of Amaro, an Italian liqueur, to her creation, and I spotted some tomatoes used in it, too, giving this dish a more Mediterranean feel.
Matthew Knoff: Cassoulet
Matthew Knoff filled in for the slot listed for Ian Kapitan of Alobar, who couldn’t make it when a member of his staff called in ill. His dish, he explained, was a based upon the one from a Julia Child recipe, with the addition of goat meat for extra heartiness. He also used a couple of different kinds of sausage (Toulouse and garlic) and lamb shoulder as well.
The event raised over $2,000.00 to go to the Learn It, Grow It, Eat It initiative run by the Greenmarket. We heard that this would let them hire 15 teenagers from the South Bronx to work with the program. It was wonderful to hang out at Jimmy’s No. 43 for the afternoon, eating and drinking all in the company of fellow food folks and some good friends. Jimmy’s had been hit really hard by Hurricane Sandy with flooding and having to close down for a week due to having no power so it was also terrific to see how Jimmy and his team had been able to come back to host this event.
The overall winner of the day for the 2013 Cassoulet Cook0ff was Laura Luciano of Out East Foodie. As Matt put it, it’s like synergy when the People’s Choice winner and the Judge’s Pick for winner mesh. Hands-down we all though that her dish capture the spirit, flavor, and essence of a classic French cassoulet. Michael of Jimmy’s No. 43 captured second place, and Matthew Knoff came in third.
We also awarded two “non-cassoulet, cassoulet” prizes, as our judges’ discretion allowed. One to Rich Pinto for his vegetarian entry, and one to Jessica Aguillo for her Iberian spin on this dish. Truthfully, though, we were all victors yesterday in getting to eat delicious food and to support a great local cause. A big “thank you” to Jimmy for inviting me to attend and to judge this event. For a calendar of other food and beer tastings taking place at this venue, please see their website.