Last sausage standing at the Taste of Buffalo
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • July 09, 2012 @ 8:57am
Plenty of hype surrounded the Nickel City Chef tent at the Taste of Buffalo Sunday afternoon, as Sample’s Adam Goetz squared off against Torches’ JJ Richert in a vaunted “Sausage Battle.” Goetz would eke out a three-point victory in the match-up, but seeing the process unfold from a judge’s perspective was thrilling.
Both Goetz and Richert had 35 minutes to weave together their best sausage dish. Rumors before the contest swirled that Richert would be late to the gig due to the rigors of tending to Smoke on the Water, his new BBQ restaurant in Tonawanda, but he arrived on time. Surprisingly, each chef told the judges—Mike Andrzejewski from Seabar/Cantina Loco/Mike A’s, local musician and Buffalo booster Nelson Starr, Buffalo Foodie Nina Barone and me—that they planned to producing the identical dish: Italian sausage with peppers and onions.
Goetz relied on his homemade pork sausage with fennel, while Richert opted for Tops Markets’ mild Italian sausage as the foundation of his dish. My initial apprehension that the two Nickel City Chefs would create disturbingly similar dishes was eased quickly, as Goetz turned to more modern cooking techniques that define his Allen Street restaurant, while Richert treated the challenge like a big family cookout—tossing over 40 sausages on his flat-top grill, enough to feed the audience as well as the judges.
After competition host, Nickel City Chef founder and Buffalo Spree food editor Christa Glennie Seychew explained the premise of NCC, introduced judges and sponsors, and allowed Goetz and Richert to briefly explain their methods to perfecting sausage, here are the final products:
Goetz’s Italian sausage stuffed into duck confit leek with mini croutons, roasted red pepper foam, charred tomatoes, arugula, pickled shallots and leek mayo:
Impressions: Goetz was proud of his roasted red pepper foam, an “airy” dressing that was a little less concentrated in flavor so it didn’t mask the taste of the sausage. The meat itself wasn’t particularly hot in temperature or spice, but the spotlight of the dish was on the texture of the leek, the red pepper foam and the fresh tastes of the arugula and charred tomatoes that accompanied the leek logs. Goetz’s creation was high on artistic value, even if he described the process as “pretty simple.”
JJ Richert’s Italian sausage with onions and peppers using 1/2 pound of butter, oregano and a topping mixture of whole grain mustard, yellow mustard, hot sauce and sriracha (the last of which I was particularly psyched about).
Impressions: I sided more with Richert’s interpretation of sausage. Since it’s basically just a collection of cooked cow or pig intestines, this isn’t a meat that deserves special treatment—let’s face it, sausage is a cookout or festival food at its root. Richert’s version was just that—he even poured beer over the top of the sausages to ensure a moist link, as the butter sizzled pleasantly under each sausage. This was a classic comfort food with serious spice; the mustard/hot sauce/sriracha mixture brought ample heat, and the entire product created more of a beer-in-hand, KanJam kind of mid-summer evening. In my short judge speech, I referred to Richert’s dish as a “family cookout on steroids” and that “I’d eat as least 15 of them.” Hey, just trying to be transparent.
Conclusions: You won’t be surprised that I voted Richert to win 16-15 (scores were out of 20 based on taste, creativity, presentation, interpretation of sausage and technical execution), but Goetz took the cake—or the set of Cutco knives—by a narrow margin. The Sample chef’s creativity and technique outlasted Richert’s simple and familiar approach. I was a bit surprised by the result, but kudos to Goetz on his ‘W.’