By Sarina Deacon
From Feb. 21 to March 6, chefs from all around Western New York will battle it out on Buffalo's West Side.
"Nickel City Chef Cooking Competition" is designed to bring exposure to local chefs. There is an emphasis on using fresh ingredients from farms around the Buffalo area. The chefs are challenged to create dishes that truly push boundaries.
Two local chefs, Victor Parra Gonzalez from the Jaguar at the Bistro in Youngstown, and Chaz Bulera of Grand Island's Riverstone Grill, will show off their culinary prowess in this culinary competition.
Chef Parra was not cooking the night this writer visited The Jaguar, but he was entertaining his guests at the bar. He has an infectious smile and one could really tell he wanted to make sure his visitors were pleased with their experience.
"It's the hospitality part of it. It's literally the fact that, when you're cooking for someone else, it's intimate," he said. "My way of cooking is that I'm always going to try to give you something you cannot make yourself. If you could do it yourself, why would you come to my house? That's what excites me the most: To see the customer; see him take a bite, and look perplexed about it."
While chatting with Parra, I was waiting for my order of barbacoa. It was described as 12-hour-long braised beef with Guajillo sauce and vegetables. Parra's sister was the chef for the night and she did not disappoint. The dish was well presented and contained flavors that varied from sweet to salty to smoky. The juicy, pull-apart pork was topped with sweet pickled onion, cilantro and spicy chile sauce. I tried to get a piece of everything on my pork before dragging it through the sauce. The explosion of exotic flavors was intoxicating. The pan-fried red potatoes and Brussels sprouts added a nice side bite, as well.
Parra is due in the Nickel City kitchen Feb. 21. He'll be going up against chef Joseph Fenush. Parra said he is anxious, but excited.
Chef Bulera was busy in the kitchen when I stopped by The Riverstone Grille. Good thing too, as the place was filled with hungry customers. Still, he was happy to sit down and discuss the upcoming event.
"I like to take traditional foods and put little twists and turns on them," Bulera said. "We try to use as much local product as we can, which can be difficult, because there aren't many local farmers markets around."
I had just finished my steak sandwich, affectionately called "The Riverstone," before speaking with Bulera. This dish was the definition of class with a little something different. The Black Angus strip steak was cooked medium well, with just enough pink. The crunchy caramelized onions added a nice contrast to the juicy roasted peppers. The sandwich was topped with bubbly provolone cheese with a finishing touch of homemade garlic mayo. This sandwich paired perfectly with sweet potato fries (and good company).
Bulera said he enjoys cooking with his daughters and claimed his youngest daughter cooks a better egg than he does. He said he is honored to have even been selected for the Nickel City competition and is very excited to see how the event unfolds. His cooking skills will be put to the test on March 6.
The Nickel City Cooking Competition will take place at 200 Amherst St., Buffalo. Doors open at 2:20 p.m., while the show begins at 3 p.m. The event is expected to last until 5 p.m.
All tickets are at will call and cost $45. Visit www.nickelcitychef.com for more information about the show and participants.