Last Thursday, Nov. 6, Chef Kamal Hammouda, owner of Grinnell’s Relish restaurant, competed in Iowa Public Radio (IPR)’s annual Battle of the Chefs competition. Six chefs from central Iowa, Hammouda being the only chef from outside Des Moines, created one dish that attendees of the public event judged.
The competition was held at West End Architectural Salvage in Des Moines. Tickets to the event were sold to the public, and over 300 people sampled each dish and voted for their favorite one.
The dish Hammouda decided to make was his Smoked Trout Pâté, a dish featured on Relish’s dinner menu.
“That was one of the appetizers that I introduced [into the menu] this past June,” Hammouda said. “It’s [a paste made of] mushroom, pepper, shallots, cream, wine [and] brandy.” He served the pâté on bread with a slice of tomato on top.
Hammouda also made a vegetarian option for the event. “I thought I would make it because of the vegetarianism growing,” he said.
Along with being popular at Relish, the pâté was chosen because it was more efficient to compete at the event with a chilled dish.
“We had to cook [beforehand] and bring [our food] there because the place doesn’t have a kitchen. It was a distance to go, and I didn’t want to take heating equipment to [Des Moines],” Hammouda said. “It’s really a wonderful dish too, and it’s easy to have chilled food with me.”
Chef Joe Tripp of the wine bar Alba Des Moines was declared the winner. Although Hammouda did not win at this competition, he seemed to be satisfied with his performance and his experience at the event. “I didn’t think I would win, [and] I wasn’t disappointed,” he said. “It was interesting to meet other chefs, and to see how they do things.”
Meeting with the attendees was another highlight for Hammouda. “It was a constant interaction between the guests. They wanted to know where we are, and where our ingredients came from,” he said. “We served over 300 people in an hour and a half. It was really intense but it was a lot of fun.”
This is the second time IPR held this event. “We wanted to do something around food to promote Talk of Iowa,” said Andrew Arganbright, IPR’s Development Manager. Talk of Iowa is a radio show aired every weekday, and features guests who discuss the arts, culture and lifestyle of Iowa. “Some coworkers had been to events where there was food sampling or wine tasting, and we drew upon experiences that they had.”
Contestants were chosen by word of mouth. “We reached out to different restaurants personally and invited them to join us,” Arganbright said. “[They were] chefs we heard about ourselves [or] there was some buzz about them in the community.”
Hammouda decided to participate because he is an avid listener of IPR. “[The event] was also a fundraiser for IPR, and I am a great supporter for IPR,” he said. “As soon as I come to the kitchen, I turn it on all day.”
According to Arganbright, IPR plans to host the Battle of the Chefs in the future. Hammouda noted that if given the chance, he would love to participate next year. “[However,] I would like to give bigger servings,” he said.