Iron Chef Rhode Island?

I had the pleasure of being a fly on the wall at the Iron Chef-style challenge at The Miriam Hospital’s Wine & Dine gala on Saturday.  John Elkhay of the Chow Fun Food Group (Luxe Burger Bar, Ten Prime Steak & Sushi, etc) battled Newport Restaurant Group chef Casey Riley (Castle Hill Inn, 22 Bowen’s) for the title of top toque. For the night anyway.

The competition was all in good fun, but with Food Network host Robert Irvine serving as master of ceremonies and judges including Sunny Anderson of the Food Network show "Cooking For Real" and Projo food editor Gail Ciampa, the dueling chefs clearly wanted to impress.

Riley and Elkhay each got forty-five minutes to prepare an appetizer, salad and entree. And then it got a little more complicated. They were required to use both monkfish and asparagus as ingredients. Irvine swapped their professional sous chefs for two women chosen from the audience. And then he told them they couldn’t cook with oil. Yep, oil. Irvine even made Elkhay take a three minute penalty because he had done too much prepping — including filleting his monkfish —  in advance. He wasn’t the only one stretching the rules: Riley was called out for smoking his short ribs the day before.

In the end, Riley won over the celebrity judges with his monkfish and slaw, while Elkhay, who made a plantain and chili crusted monkfish taco, got the audience’s vote (perhaps "vote for me" embrodered on the back of his chef’s coat had a little something to do with it?!). The chefs were both good sports and it was a valiant effort all around, especially for Elkhay who let it slip that he hasn’t cooked professionally since 1996 (Riley said he’d been in the kitchen the previous night). And it was all for a great cause: The event netted nearly $450,000 for the hospital.