Food & Wine
January 01, 2010

Confession: I've never won a competition. Ever. I'm not bitter, though. I'm actually happy, because I get to see things from the other side of the table, as a judge. Indeed, cook-offs and wine-tasting contests have become the biggest trend in the epicurean world. Ask any of the millions of people who watch Top Chef (that's me in the photo, second from the left, when I appeared on the show as a guest judge) or the hordes who come for the Burger Bash at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival (taking place next month). Everyone wants to find out who or what is truly the best. In this issue we answer that question, with help from some very discerning critics.

F&W's very own Gail Simmons, a judge on Top Chef, rescues the catastrophically flawed dishes that pushed eight chef-testants out of the competition. Though Gail can't intervene on the show, she redeems some of those losing recipes here, teaching us how to make a high-rising soufflé, for instance—the dish that sank Carla Hall in the finale of Season 5.

Some of the toughest judges in the food world are chefs, since they critique their own cooking every day to improve it. We asked three Italian-food experts (F&W Best New Chefs Marc Vetri, Michael Schlow and Scott Conant) to taste pasta dishes created by our Test Kitchen and pick the ones they liked the most. And to find the most delicious new chicken dishes in the country, we invited top restaurant reviewers to nominate their favorites. I love chicken, but my family thinks it's super-boring; I needed some help. And I got it here.

One former reviewer, the New York Times's Frank Bruni, had a more challenging task. We asked him to eat at New York City's Le Bernardin and behave like a world-class jerk in order to test the wine-pairing skills of the restaurant's world-class sommelier, Aldo Sohm. Goaded by Frank, Aldo sweated out the matches for chef Eric Ripert's food. And they were remarkable. Judge for yourself.

Where I'm Coming From

A Tasting of Recent Trends in NYC:

Wine Bars

Ardesia has a great wine list and stellar small plates, from warm soft pretzels and weisswurst to ice-cream sandwiches (the key: tender cookies).

Pizza Wars
Kesté & Motorino

I refuse to take sides in the NYC pizza wars: I love the puffy-crusted Margherita at both places, topped with perfect tomato sauce and just enough fresh mozzarella.

Innovative Pestos
A Voce Columbus

I've been seeing creative pestos everywhere. My recent favorite was coating a crispy branzino at A Voce.

Follow me on Twitter@fwscout.

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