Photo by Chris Casella

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 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.”

The judges sit between the chefs and the crowd, but as the night goes on and the drinks keep flowing, audience members bear down on the contestants, rubber-necking to check the finesse and steal a taste of the finished dishes.

The trash talking started a month before the contest, but it was “polite” trash talk, said Randazzo. “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…’”

After a shot and a beer, the two went into frenetic mode, each creating a steak-and-egg dish. At the end of a long night of chopping and sautéing, sweating and drinking, Randazzo was declared the winner. Trying not to gloat too much, the victor commented that, as current champ, she gets to pick the three ingredients for the next face-off. “I’m not gonna try to screw ’em up,” she grinned.
Invading the Food Fort on September 13th, the next matchup pits the local king of smoked meat, That Food Truck’s Dan Crouse, against Refectory alum and Oh! Burgers Food truck titan Brian Thornton. “I think Dan’s the favorite,” said Randazzo, already starting in. “But Brian could surprise everyone; he’s got some chops that no one realizes.”

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 second round, will saunter into the Food Fort on September 13. Admission fluctuates, but all proceeds go to the Mid-Ohio Foodbank. Keep up on the action here.