June 13, 2011

A quick glance at the menu at Q’s Restaurant in the Hotel Boulderado last Sunday night would have suggested business as usual at Chef John Platt’s popular eatery in the heart of downtown Boulder. Selections included:

  • Salmon and Caviar with Lemon Crème Fraiche.  
  • Roasted Pork Belly with Spiced Pumpkin Hash and Apple and Ginger Puree.   
  • Braised Short Ribs with Celery Root and Horseradish Puree.  
  • Glazed Salmon with Whipped Potatoes and Fresh Sautéed Spring Vegetables.  
  • Mango Panna Cotta with Passion Fruit Sorbet.  
  • Lobster with Creamed Corn and Fried Bone Marrow. 

However, last Sunday night at Q’s was definitely not business as usual. Not even close. These entrees were not the brainchild of a seasoned culinary mind. Instead, they were the products of two very young and very talented culinary novices, both of whom are a mere 14-years-old. Meet Aaron Kirschner and Austin Forest, Centennial Middle School friends and budding culinary geniuses who challenged each other’s culinary prowess in the very first Flatiron Chef Competition.

I hope there are many more. This is the most fun I’ve had eating out in a very long time.

Forty hungry customers gathered for the night’s proceedings. The challenge for each newbie-chef was to prep, cook, plate and serve twenty sophisticated diners each, plus three critical and eager judges, including me. Both Aaron and Austin had a small team of obviously young sous chefs, each with the availability of a professional kitchen to work in and the celebrated Chef Platt to lead them. For the competing teams, this had to be more fun than a day at Elitch Gardens and Water World combined.

Course by course the plates arrived. And I was amazed. Stunned, to be honest, at the execution of complex cooking methods: The plating, the purees, the sauces. The creativity! I was as impressed with the nouveau gastronomical Arugula noodle as I was with the perfectly executed classic red wine reduction that accompanied the braised pork ribs. Red Beet Ice Cream? No problem. Balsamic Caviar? Beautiful. And all of it arrived on time with an appropriate interlude between each course. No long waits. No anxiety. No one asking the servers, “did someone forget my dessert?”

I have to say that the staff at Q’s delivered flawlessly. They served each course as if the Head Chef was on the delivering end. The explanation of each course resembled the finest of dining experiences I’ve had in Napa Valley or Dijon in France. Everyone took this unique culinary experience as it should have been taken… completely seriously.

In the end the team of judges had to declare a winner and so by a nose, or weight of a pinch of sea salt, we gave the nod to Young Chef Aaron. It was close and we agonized. It’s hard to say “sorry kid, your food didn’t measure up” to any young cook who attempts this sort of challenge. I think both competitors ended the night proud, happy and satisfied. And, more importantly, still friends.

The day after the competition I received this email from Aaron’s dad… “What was really sweet was taking the boys out for pizza after the event and seeing them revel in the camaraderie. There was no jealousy, no enmity, just them talking over the night and complimenting one another, trying to figure out how to get another competition going, maybe with the five of them teaming up to take on another large team. That was very gratifying to me.”

Sounds to me like we haven’t heard the last from Aaron and Austin. If these young men represent the future of culinary artistry, we all have great things and great food to look forward to.