On Thursday, July 30, Eileen Andrade of Finka Table & Tap will face MC Kitchen's Dena Marino in a Fork Off at New Times' Iron Fork/Miami Spice kickoff, presented by the Miami Downtown Development Authority.
It will all go down at the Hyatt Regency Miami, where the two toques will battle in front of thousands of fans during a showdown hosted by chef Allen Susser. This year's Iron Fork competition will see some exciting changes. For one, each chef will be tasked with creating memorable dishes, using an array of farm-fresh produce and local proteins, including one mystery ingredient to throw off their game. This competition also marks the first all-women battle, pitting two fierce and talented chefs against each other for the Iron Fork title.
New Times caught up with the chefs, who took time out from their grueling training schedules to share strategies and thoughts on the competition.
New Times: This year, Iron Fork happens to feature two talented women chefs. How do you think this will change the dynamic of the competition, and is there a difference (besides biology) between men and women in the kitchen?
Eileen Andrade: Men and women are definitely very different in the kitchen. I just don't know if I'm allowed to say why without getting the boys upset. I'm excited to be a part of the first female brawl, because I'm thinking the girls will surely bring more heat.
Dena Marino: Well, I think it's about time! I mean, really. But, absolutely, there is no difference of either/or cooking in the kitchen.
This year's Iron Fork has a farm-to-table theme. How will that affect your cooking, and what would your dream ingredients be when you get up on that stage?
Andrade: At Finka, which means "farm" in Spanish, we try our best to source local ingredients, so we are used to using fresh and local products. I love a little kick in my food, so some spicy Peruvian peppers would be great!
Marino: Farm-to-table will not affect any of my cooking — this is what we do every day at MC Kitchen. I have been cooking that way from growing up in New Jersey to Napa Valley and even in Aspen to Miami. For dream ingredients, I would love and be beyond excited for mozzarella curd, Meyer lemons, and blood oranges.
If you could sneak in and place any secret ingredient in your opponent's basket, what would it be and why?
Andrade: I know Dena sticks to traditional Italian, so why don't we freak her out with some fermented cabbage?
Marino: Ex-Lax. Why not?
What do you think your opponent's strengths and weaknesses are?
Andrade: Dena is a great cook. She is very focused and determined. But I know she sticks to one cuisine, while Finka has a hodgepodge of cuisines on the menu.
Marino: Eileen's strengths are that she's a young chef from Miami. As for her weakness? She has no idea what I'm capable of!
How are you preparing for this epic battle?
Andrade: I've been doing some bench presses with a 50-pound iron fork.
Marino: I am preparing like I do for my battle every day. I cook and create.
How does cooking on a stage, as opposed to your restaurant kitchen, affect your cooking? Does the crowd help or hinder your performance?
Andrade: I like pressure. I like the rush, and I think working under pressure only makes me more eager to do things right. I've done a few competitions in my day, and I'm not worried.
Marino: It doesn't make it harder or easier. At MC Kitchen, we have an open kitchen so guests can see what we are doing all the time. I think it just makes it more fun, and I love crowd participation!
Any advice or last words for your opponent?
Marino: Watch out — I'm coming for you. My gloves are off, and just remember — Italians do it better!
Andrade: Whoever said "Italians do it better" lied.
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Of course, all of this fierce competition leaves one hungry, which is why Miami's finest restaurants will be on hand to serve bites of their best offerings. And because this is the official kickoff to Miami Spice 2015, you'll be able to preview many restaurants participating in the promotion. Restaurants at Iron Fork include favorites like Finka Table & Tap, Morton's the Steakhouse, the Café at Books & Books, Miami Smokers, Cibo Wine Bar, J&G Grill, American Social, Naked Taco, Tongue & Cheek, R House, the Traymore, and Tantalize Miami.
Advance-purchase, general-admission tickets cost $50 through July 29 and increase to $65 at the door (while supplies last). GA tickets allow entry to Iron Fork from 7 to 10 p.m. and include unlimited samplings of food from dozens of Miami's finest establishments.
VIPs get into Iron Fork at 6 p.m. for an extra hour of fun and have access to the exclusive VIP lounge. Advance-purchase VIP tickets cost $85 through July 29; VIP tickets at the door are $100 (while supplies last). To purchase tickets, visit newtimesironfork.com.