Photo by Caroline Kraus/Blurryst.com

Ready, Set, Chop!

The trash talking starts early. First it’s a diss slipped all side-eyed to a few buddies on the line, then the fireworks light up Twitter, until finally the two face off in a late-night, packed warehouse culinary drama.

It’s Columbus Knife Fight, and it’s an event that’s rocking the chef-tastic world of C-bus. “I’m obsessed with Knife Fight on Esquire TV,” admitted ringmaster Catie Randazzo of Challah Food Truck. “It’s really low-key and I told [business partner] Shoshanna [Gross] we should do this, and then I talked to Food Fort and they were into it.”

Randazzo called out Matthew Heaggans of Swoop Food Truck and on July 26th, the first champion cooked like a banshee into the city’s food history books. Hosted by Colin Vent of Seventh Son Brewery, the night was fun and full of energy as close to 100 food fanatics cheered on their favorite pan pusher.

Taking place under the shine of summer’s moonlight, Randazzo and Heaggans commandeered their magic knives and worked with blueberries, rabbit, and dried ancho chilies. “We start at 10:30 p.m. so all the cooks, servers, and foodies can come out,” Randazzo explained. “And then we get 10 minutes to brainstorm our dishes.”

Working with local farmers and purveyors for the produce, each chef gets a small budget for proteins and cheese. “We have one hour to make a minimum of two dishes.”

At the end of the night, Randazzo walked away the winner. “I have lots of respect for Heaggans. Columbus is lucky to have him.” The chefs generated their own buzz and the event was filled with family, friends, and regulars of each chef. “It was exciting and people were cheering and then,” paused Randazzo. “…the judges called for a sudden death dish…we were dead-even and I thought, ‘You’ve got to be f*cking kidding me…’”

While there was no sudden death at the September 13th event, the chefs ribbed each other mercilessly before the event. That Food Truck’s Dan Crouse tweeted, “OH! Burgers, while I’m out, did you still need me to grab this for your service tomorrow?” with a picture of Chef Boyardee beef ravioli. Not one to be shaded, OH! Burgers’ Brian Thornton volleyed, “Hey @That_Food_Truck I found a book for you…hope this helps you for @FightColumbus” and included a link to The Cookbook for Kids.

Driving up to Food Fort around 10 p.m. on a Friday is a little sketchy, a little exciting. A club next door has bikers roaring around and bass booming throughout the neighborhood. Rows of sleeping food trucks line the lot, creepy in their silence. The garage doors of the Food Fort are open and thankfully, the light pouring out is welcoming in this odd after-dark warehouse world.

“There’s an underground feel, with service industry people there…i’d like to see it get really big.”

Inside, Actual Brewing is pouring beers and the growing crowd is waiting for Seventh Son’s Colin Vent to announce the three secret ingredients. A boombox bleats out everything from Motown to Queen. En Place and The Flat Top Pizza Company are parked outside and everyone is eating off paper plates, aromas of garlic and oregano filling the chilly air. 

Acting like a carnival barker about to disclose the secrets of the sideshow world, Vent uncovers first, whole duck, then, Ohio’s official fruit, the pawpaw, and finally, beef fat or suet. Randazzo commented that, as current champ, she got to pick the three ingredients for the next face-off. “I’m not gonna try to screw ’em up,” she grinned.

After the ingredients are presented, the two chefs – one tatted up and dressed in a black-and-white pinstriped chef coat, the other in a traditional white – rush the table. Soon, the two are prepping and slicing, grabbing ingredients as far flung as OYO Whiskey (which gets a huge cheer from the crowd) to beet powder.

Spectators are welcome to walk through the kitchen and rubberneck the skills, while those in the belly of the building can watch the action via a flat screen and live high def feed.

Disaster is averted when Thornton’s ice cream doesn’t freeze and he has the wherewithal to turn it into a pawpaw-flavored cream anglais for a quickie bread pudding. At the end, Thornton pulls of his chef’s coat to reveal a That Food Truck t-shirt, DIYed to say, “That Food Truck Sucks.” 

Eventually, everything is plated, presented, and tasted by the three judges, including past challengers Randazzo and Heaggans. They disappear into a mystery back room, and the people mill around, some helping to clean the kitchen. After a vocal drum roll from the crowd, OH! Burgers and OH! Chips main man Thornton takes the trophy – a slasher-movie appropriate cleaver with I WON in bloody red written across the blade. Crouse gets a smaller, teeny, chef’s knife whose blade can barely fit the phrase: “I almost won.”

Part of the deal is that Crouse will now have to emblazon his truck with “I lost to Brain Thornton at the Columbus Knife Fight” or some variation thereof, while Thornton gets to boast of his win on the side of his food coach.

The Columbus Knife Fight will be taking place every other month, with the next event in November. In the future, Randazzo would like to see food truck chefs mixing it up with brick-and-mortar legends such as Bill Glover, Kent Rigsby, or Alana Shock. “I like how this event showcases our city,” she said with pride. “There’s an underground feel, with service industry people there…I’d like to see it get really big and include chefs from Cleveland and Cincinnati – I mean big, but low-key big.”

Columbus Knife Fight, the third round, will take place in November. Keep up on the action by liking the event’s Facebook page

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