Travel. It’s something everyone wishes they did more of. Exotic locales, new experiences, the ability to bargain shop at 2 am in the morning… The reasons why people to do it are endless and those who travel are easily envied by others. But after a while, all you want is to sleep in your own bed and do absolutely nothing.
When I was originally approached by my friend Emily Shen about the “Food Fight” a few days before I departed Mexico City for home, I could have easily said no. I was exhausted. Tokyo was tough, Seoul was draining, and Mexico was more work than I had expected and I needed a break. But the moment I heard the words “video game” followed by “Marvel vs Capcom 3,” I responded with a resounding “YES”. I didn’t bother asking who the chefs were or what they were making, she had me at Wolverine.
After a month on the road, I finally touched down after a very turbulent and unfriendly AeroMexico flight back into Los Angeles’ sweet smoggy bosom. (Note to self: When offered a free meal on AeroMexico, “no gracias” is the proper response. The outcome will be less painful.) And though the only thing I wanted to do was slip into a coma, I couldn’t. My plate was already full. I was judging a food competition the very next morning.
Saturday morning came too soon. And though I was in dire need of sleep, I managed to roll myself out of bed and drag my carcass into the shower. Was there enough scalding hot water in Los Angeles to wash away my exhaustion? Not really, but video games and food were enough incentive to shake most of it away.
I soon arrived at the Kim Sing Theater downtown and found myself face-to-face with a long line of diehard fans snaking around the corner and up the street from the venue. Some fans had even spent the night in hopes of being the first ones in. Ah, to be that dedicated. Sometimes I wish I had that kind of dedication, but then again, I’ve outgrown sleeping on sidewalks. I walked past the crowd and went to find Emily. I needed more information about the Food Fight that was about to commence.
The Food Fight sponsored by Marvel vs Capcom, featured chefs Eric Greenspan from The Foundry on Melrose and Ludo Lefebvre from LudoBites in a battle of epic proportions: The Hulk aka The Hulk Hamburger (Ludo) vs Ryu aka Ryu’s Fireball (Eric). With Ludo raving about how green his buns were… his hamburger buns, and the fact that Greenspan was using crispy pork in his bao, my taste buds were instantly piqued.
Since I was starving (my brisket mac n’ cheese from Gram and Papa’s was usurped by a very rude food blogger who reeked of self-entitlement), I snuck onto Ludo’s truck for a my first meal, the Hulk Hamburger. The patty was a blend of three types of meat (sirloin, chuck and brisket) and stuffed with Velveeta cheese. Once cooked to medium rare (the only way to eat a burger) it was topped with crispy onions, a homemade savory compote and squished between a green brioche bun till the cheese oozed out. The burger was served alongside a mound of delicate shoestring potatoes and “radioactive” ketchup.
I went in for my first bite and when I pulled the burger from my lips, found my chin dripping with meat juices and Velveeta cheese. I was a mess. Did I mention I was ravenous? At that moment, it wasn’t about judging the hamburger more than it was getting something in my stomach and after the first mouthful went down, I could focus my attention on the dish itself. My first composed thought was that it needed a little salt. ”What do you think Joy?” Ludo asked inquisitively. I smiled and nodded my head and feigned a full mouth so I couldn’t respond. I quickly devoured the remainder of my burger, wiped my mouth, and departed the truck. My critique would be saved for later.
Next up was the Ryu Fireball by Chef Greenspan. The description of the dish had me excited. I was salivating at the thought of raw tuna, scallions, crispy pork , and a spicy sriracha sauce sandwiched inbetween a hot bao bun. But when I saw the actual “Fireball” it looked more like a spark. In food like in life, the saying goes that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but in the case of the fireball, it tasted the way it looked, completely flat. There was no flavor, no fire. I walked away disappointed and in desperate need of dental floss due to the stringy tuna that was caught between my teeth.
When I think of food judges, the Food Network flashes before my eyes and I cringe. They’re all idiots save for my former Food Editor at Vogue, Jeffrey Steingarten, who judges on Iron Chef America (Ted Allen, you’re a moron). Most of their remarks are banal and heavily tinged with mendacity. Honesty is not a dish you find regularly served on these shows or if it is, it’s only an amuse bouche. But keeping in mind the audience I would face during the judging and the fact that most people who actually watch the Food Network consider themselves food experts for doing so, I kept my candidness to a minimum.
Soon the moment of truth was upon us and the judging panel (which included myself, Betty Hallock, Deputy Food Editor from the LA Times, Patrick Green creator of the LA Food App, and Adam Sessler from G4) assembled inside. We gave our feedback and our votes, crowning Ludo champion, but as this event was really about the fans, our votes didn’t matter. Fortunately for us, the fans sided with us and in the end, Ludo won.
After spending the beginning half of my day playing several rounds of Marvel vs Capcom 3 and stuffing my face, I decided to finish on a hight note by devouring an enormous ice cream sandwich courtesy of CoolHaus. Afterwards I said my good-byes and got a ride home. The end to my eventful day found me back in bed happily realizing that no matter where I travel to experiences are to be had anywhere. And in the end, there’s really no place like home.
Thanks to SA Studios, Marvel and Capcom, Marcos, Victor, Emily, Nate, Ben, Jarod, Hannah, and more for a great time!
**Though I held back a bit when asked about each dish by referencing the influence of the characters more so than the execution of the dish, I was honest. But if you really want to know what I wanted to say… my comments are below.
1) Both chefs had the same budget yet Ludo outserved Eric by over a hundred people. (Yes I understand tuna is more expensive, but really.. that’s not an excuse that works for me.)
2) Stringy tuna that gets caught in my teeth. Not a fan.
3) Ludo composed a complete meal: burger and fries with ketchup, while Eric had the singular bao.
4) Bruce Banner aka the Hulk = Americana. A green hamburger, radioactive ketchup, gamma rays, etc. This embodies the character. Considering that both chefs had a complete bio on their characters, it was obvious that Ludo put a lot more thought into his dish in the creation and execution.
5) Ryu = Japan. I thought the use of the bao was clever since the shape actually mimics the shape Ryu makes with his hands when he’s making his fireball. But.. BAO Bun = Chinese. Sriracha = Thai. Maybe if Ryu, Sagat and Chun Li got together and had a three way, it would have made more sense…
6) The Hulk Burger tasted better. Period. The Fireball was bland and boring. If you say “Fire” you better mean it.
Photos courtesy of Mo