Brainfood Grill-Off Recap featured in Northern Virginia Magazine

Brainfood Grill-Off Recap
Northern Virginia Magazine
Tuesday, June 16th, 2009
Stephen Ball

To read the full article click here.

Last week we introduced you to Teddy Folkman, executive chef at Granville Moore’s and finalist on this season’s “The Next Food Network Star.” In passing we mentioned Teddy’s involvement in Brainfood, a D.C.-based non-profit that “uses food and cooking as tools to teach life skills and healthy living to teenagers in a safe and positive environment.”

Well, last Thursday (I know I’m late getting this up, please forgive me!) was Brainfood’s Third Annual Grill Off. Held at the Decatur House, the event featured nine area chefs who each captained a team of amateur chefs and Brainfood students. Competing teams had one hour to create two original dishes from a surprise pantry of fresh ingredients; dishes were judged by a panel of foodies. While there, I caught up with Teddy, Vermilion’s Anthony Chittum, The Majestic’s Shannon Overmiller, ABC 7’s Leon Harris (who was the event’s MC), and Brainfood student Vanessa Castro.

According to Brainfood’s executive director, Paul Dahm, the event was projected to raise nearly $60,000. Thanks to contributions from participants, guests and other donors, 100 percent of the proceeds will go directly to Brainfood.

In addition to competing, Folkman also raised nearly $8,000 during a live auction. The item up for bids? Folkman cooking dinner at your home for six people. As the bidding increased, Folkman began to include members of his staff. In the end, Folkman committed the services of his beer master, general manager, chef de cuisine, and sous chef to come to the winner’s home to prepare a meal for six. When the bidding came down to two finalists, Folkman decided to do both dinners.

Note: Originally I had planned to post the audio for each of the interviews, but it being a party and all, the background noise was too loud to do that. So, on to the interviews!

Afterwards, Folkman reflected on his team’s performance.

“We had a really great team. It went excellent, our student was pretty bad ass, every single person contributed,” Folkman said. “It was all about team work tonight. It was nice to sit back in a pseudo kitchen and give orders. I hope we did well. We did a rare seared tuna with a ragout of grilled vegetables and a coconut curry sauce. We’ll see what the judges say, but right now we’re all winners because we had such a good time.”

Asked what kind of response he’s gotten now that “The Next Food Network Star” has premiered, Folkman couldn’t help but laugh.

“The response has mainly been, ‘what were you doing wearing that orange shirt?’ and ‘I can’t believe you cooked raw potatoes.’ It’s been mostly positive. I have to make sure I don’t wear that shirt again in public. But as a guy known for his frites, potatoes, there could have been some creative editing done by the Food Network or they really could have been raw. But an hour and a half in the oven, I don’t know. You can bake a potato in less time than that, but they are the experts so whatever.”

Reflecting on his seven years involved with Brainfood, Folkman said, “Brainfood’s a big part of my life. … I’ve seen the hard times, I’ve seen the great times, tonight has definitely been one of those great times. I’d like to one day be on the board of directors. I plugged Brainfood as much as possible in “Star;” hopefully the editors will keep some of it in there. You look around and see all the chefs around here. Hopefully we’ll get them all back to volunteer throughout the year.”

Folkman’s student-chef Vanessa Castro never envisioned herself as a chef; her dream had always been to be a forensics scientist, but now, “the possibilities are endless.” Throughout the year, Castro and the other Brainfood students benefited from guest chefs, like Folkman, to teach them through lectures, cooking classes and field trips.

“We worked on our knife skills and learned to cook different cultural foods. … I got involved through my high school, it got my community service hours and have been able to meet people from new schools.”

For first-time Brainfood participant Majestic’s executive chef, Shannon Overmiller, the cause is close to her heart.

“I think it’s a great cause. It’s really important,” Overmiller said. “My background was not normal. I lost my parents when I was young. So I had a little bit of a struggle to get through and I needed help getting through everything I got through. So, I think this is the right opportunity for those that want it and see it and I would be more than honored to be a part of that.”

Asked how her team fared, Overmiller laughed. “We went a little riskier than some, we saw a lot of great ingredients get taken off the board,” she said. “We started with some calamari, then used the tentacles as stuffing with herbs, capers, olives, stewed tomatoes and balsamic white wine. Then added a white balsamic glaze and put it over a bed of artichokes, hearts of palm, and mixed greens.”

Vermillion’s Anthony Chittum was also a first-timer to Brainfood, but felt compelled to sign up after reflecting to his start in food.

“I had just recently heard about the organization,” Chittam said, still sweltering from the grill’s heat. “It’s something that’s close to me, I grew up working in kitchens, working for chefs. I learned a lot, even as a dishwasher I learned about more than cooking, just life in general. This group centers around that and it’s a great thing.”

As for ABC 7’s Harris, this is his third year as the Master of Ceremonies and he can’t wait for next year.

“I love this group,” Harris said, mid-sprint from the stage to his car, attempting to make it to work on time. “It’s a good way to reach kids by sneak attack. They don’t know they’re learning. I’ve only seen a handful of programs like that and this exemplifies that. This is my third year doing the fundraiser; it’s been a blast the whole way.”