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Top Chefs cook it out for a good cause

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It’s fair to say that I don’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I have one, like most folks, and I’m familiar with concept of heating food to kill the bad-for-you bacteria. I’ve even used a microwave with varying degrees of success. So when I got an e-mail last week announcing that GenderPAC, a nonprofit that works towards gender equality, was holding the first of four celebrity cook-off fundraisers this summer — the kickoff event was held last Friday at New York’s Institute of Culinary Education (ICE), with two former Top Chef winners and Queer Eye‘s food and wine expert Ted Allen as one of the judges — I coaxed a foodie friend to help me divine this strange culture, and to parse such terms as “haute” (literally “high” in French; fancy, high-end food), “plated” (food made to look pretty on the plate) and “in the weeds” (behind schedule, screwing up the menu) into proper apple-pie, mom-and-pop-shop English.

Comedian Kate Clinton opened the competition with some warmed-over jokes about G-spots, a nod to GenderPAC’s bright orange G-shaped logo. But the action really heated up (okay, last food pun, I promise) when Ilan Hall, the winner of Top Chef season 2, and Hung Huynh, the season 3 winner, were presented with their ingredient “baskets” and, à la Iron Chef, were told they had 30 minutes to prepare a drink, an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert, using every single item they had in their baskets.

You can watch video from the event below. After the jump, read more about what it was like to watch these Top Chefs compete and to taste their creations.

As stated above, I’m not exactly what you’d call a seasoned cook.But I’m fairly sure that while gummy bears (Huynh’s basket), FrostedFlakes (Hall’s basket), Nesquik (Hall), Tang (Huynh), spam (Hall), andmanwich sauce (Huynh) are standards in the American comfort-foodlexicon, they aren’t exactly considered “haute” cuisine. (“Thoseingredients are sadistic!” hissed my foodie friend as he lookedon, aghast.) But in under 15 minutes, Huynh had already “plated” twodishes. (Apparently Huynh is lightening quick in the kitchen — hesliced and diced fennel without even looking at the business end of hisknife.) Meanwhile, Hall was “in the weeds,” stressing over a largebrown tuber, while accidentally scorching some hearts of palm in asauce pan and sending plumes of smoke into the room. “You need to cookyucca for hours!” he said with a grimace.

Thanks to free-flowing booze, courtesy of Chopin vodka, things got alittle blurry from here on out, but I’m vaguely aware that Hall made apumpkin crepe with a coconut-chocolate sauce and a Frosted Flakecrumble that my foodie friend proclaimed “very good,” and that Hall wonthe competition, though it was pretty damn close.

By this point, I was feeling pretty lame about the instant oatmeal Ihad made for breakfast that morning. But my feelings of inadequacy weresomewhat tempered by Ted Allen’s admission that he wasn’t always awine-and-food guru. “Prior to Queer Eye, I shredded all my credibility — as a journalist,” he said. Aha! Maybe there’s hope for me in the kitchen after all.

And now for the results…

Hung Huynh

Drink: Chopin vodka, Tang, pie-shell crumble on top
Appetizer: Smoked salmon with avocado, pistachio, and a BBQ vinaigrette 
Main: Buffalo meat with cheese
Dessert: Gummy bear crepe with Tang, tamarind sauce, butter, and granola

Ilan Hall

Drink: Chopin vodka with watermelon and blood orange
Appetizer: Steamed clams with seawood, Spam, star anise, grilled sardines, and popcorn
Main: Seared ostrich with microwaved artichokes, couscous, sea salt and olive oil, with a sunny-side-up egg and baby-pea purée
Dessert: Crepe with canned pumpkin purée filling, coconut-chocolate sauce with Frosted Flake crumble

Judging by the above dishes, who would you have voted for?  And who’s currently your favorite celebrity chef?

The GenderPAC cook-off tour touches down in Denver, Chicago, and Austin this summer: more info can be found here.