Maribelle's Food Fight (Profile)

Maribelle’s eat+drink hosts live-action culinary gladiators à la 'Chopped'

Jan 8, 2014 at 11:35 am
click to enlarge Maribelle's Food Fight
Maribelle's Food Fight

Cooking competition shows are all the rage on TV. You can’t turn on the television without landing on a food-related spectacle that pits chef against chef. And if you need that culinary adrenaline closer than your screen, catch it live and local at Food Fight, Maribelle’s eat+drink chef Mike Florea’s creation, born of the desire to meet other people in the food community and build camaraderie in a fast-growing industry. The first Food Fight took place at the end of last year. 

“I always thought it was cool to meet up with other industry people, in general, and really knew it was hard to have a large majority of these people meet up because we are always busy,” he says. “I thought of a competition-type meeting and had jotted down some ideas.”

“One night Josh Campbell [chef at Lavomatic] put on Facebook that someone should do a knife fight in Cincinnati,” he continues. “I responded to his status update, ‘Either you do it now or I will.’ He responded, ‘Go for it.’ The event was created in the next three hours and hundreds of people were invited. Ironically, Josh won the first food fight. Scouts honor, there was zero cheating.”

Based on the popular cooking show Chopped, the rules are simple: Chefs, colleagues, foodies and anyone else who loves good food and good competition may come to the fight. Pony up $10 to enter the building (Maribelle’s in Oakley); this gets you in as a spectator. If you would like the opportunity to compete and/or judge, the entry fee goes up to $15. 

Your name will then be placed into a pot (literally) and 14 names will be drawn. The first three names picked will compete, the next three will judge. There will be two rounds featuring a total of six chefs — three chefs duke it out each round. The winner of each round will then compete for the championship. Two people will enter the final round; only one will win. The prizes are bragging rights, a knife trophy of sorts from knife sharpener and chef Chris Weist of Cincy Sharp and some cold, hard cash.

Each competing cook receives a basket of five random ingredients and has 30 minutes to make an entrée utilizing all of them. There is a small selection of pantry and walk-in items to choose from to boost the ingredients from the basket. 

Appliances are limited. Florea chooses the items while tooling around Jungle Jim’s, notorious for its huge choice of international and exotic selection. 

“I walk around Jungle Jim’s and fill in random things that the local farmers and other food companies don’t supply me with,” he says. “I try to pick ingredients that I think could go together in a weird and twisted way. I think of dishes I would do. It’s crazy to watch people come up with similar ideas on the fly.”

Andrew Mersmann, chef at Django Western Taco in Northside, was a judge for the first Food Fight, and he will definitely be there for the second one — hopefully as a chef. He was impressed with the fact that chefs were there during their coveted free time. 

“People literally lined up to watch cooks cook against each other, sweat their asses off, stress out and clean up after themselves for nothing other than the fun of it,” he says.

The basket for the first food fight contained chicken feet, duck head, smoked turkey wings, salted duck egg, soba noodles, bac ha (a Vietnamese vegetable) and black plum. 

Campbell’s winning concoction was a ramen-style dish consisting of a broth made with the duck head, chicken feet, turkey wings and a basic mire poix plus a barbecue sauce made with the black plum and jalapeño added to the grilled chicken feet from the broth. He then cooked the soba noodles with the salty duck egg to season the noodles and peeled and grilled the bac ha. He put all the components together and garnished with pear, radish and cilantro. He’s looking forward to defending his title in the second contest. 

“I entered Food Fight because I love competition,” Campbell says. “It’s a challenge of creativity, knowledge and technique. I see so much culinary plagiarism these days. So many cooks go and buy all these books and fancy tools to recreate what they have seen and then claim it as their own. I want to see what these so-called chefs can do without their books and fancy gadgets: 30 minutes with a knife and ingredients to see who the bad ass really is.”

With the growing success of Food Fight, Florea doesn’t really see an end to the fun in sight. 

“I see it picking up speed and becoming better and more competitive on every level as it goes,” he says. “I am excited to see what happens with it. Stay tuned.”

Food Fight takes place at Maribelle’s eat+drink, 3235 Madison Road, Oakley, 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 13. More at