Food & Drink

Modesto chefs hoping to dazzle judges, win over crowd in DMC Foundation Benefit

Marco Alvarado, Bacchus Food and Spirits
Mine is a different style of cuisine.  I fuse the flavors of my Italian heritage and Latin American background with other world tastes.
Marco Alvarado, Bacchus Food and Spirits Mine is a different style of cuisine. I fuse the flavors of my Italian heritage and Latin American background with other world tastes. Modesto Bee

The secret ingredient won't be pork belly or giant eel.

But an "Iron Chef"-style competition next week at Modesto Centre Plaza will have three notable chefs, on-the-floor commentary and discriminating judges ready to declare whose cuisine reigns supreme.

The Culinary Clash, a fund-raiser for DMC Foundation, will feature chefs Marco Alvarado of Bacchus Food & Spirits, Scott Pasco of Clayton's Cafe and Vincent Alvarado of Dewz (no relation to Marco). They'll have an hour to create four dishes using the secret ingredient, which organizer Ellyn Brannon promises won't be too unusual.

Brannon, who worked for food-service giant Sysco for a number of years, helped come up with the idea. She staged a similar event at a food show in the Bay Area and said the audience loved it.

So, when the foundation wanted a fund-raiser that also would raise awareness of the organization, an "Iron Chef" competition seemed like a good fit.

"What better way to get the whole community involved than to feature local chefs?" Brannon said.

Here's how it works: Each chef, along with two sous-chefs, will be assigned to one of three "kitchens" to be set up in Centre Plaza's Harvest Hall. There will be a small refrigerator, an electric stove with a double oven, plus a well-stocked


Prep is set to start at 1 p.m. But the secret ingredient won't be announced until the audience arrives, sometime after 5:30.

So, how do the chefs know what ingredients to start chopping? They take an educated guess, Brannon said. She figures they will start with the basics, perhaps by preparing mise en place (a French term referring to having standard ingredients, like garlic and parsley, chopped and ready to go).

Audience members will watch the action on a 12-by-16-foot TV screen and listen to commentary by Jeff Mall, a former Modesto resident and Central Catholic High School graduate who is executive chef and co-owner of ZIN Wine Bar and Restaurant in Healdsburg. Also commenting will be Patrick Dodd, director of wine education for E.&J. Gallo Winery. The two also will discuss possible wine pairings for each dish.

When the hour is up, the judges will weigh in. Judging will be Tom Bender, hospitality-management instructor at Columbia College, wine steward for O'Brien's Market on Dale Road and Bee wine columnist; Stanley Diamond, a chef and former general manager of Mallard's restaurant; and Irene Angelo, a longtime foodie who has offered cooking classes in Modesto.

Dishes will be judged on taste, presentation and creative use of the secret ingredient. The chef with the highest score will be crowned Modesto's 2008 Culinary Clash King.

In addition, audience members can buy tickets for $1 to vote for their favorite chef. The chef with the most votes will be named People's Choice Chef.

Also included in the event is a live auction, with prizes that include a seat on the judge's panel and a table for four in the "Gourmet Café," where the winners will get to taste each of the chef's dishes.

DMC Foundation, which offers health education and related services, hopes to raise at least $20,000 with the event. Money will go to programs such as Miller's Place, an Alzheimer's and adult day health center, and Kids Works, which uses life-size puppets to educate children on sensitive health-related issues.

Bee staff writer Kerry McCray can be reached at or 578-2358.