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Seattle Times food writer Nancy Leson serves up the best info and tips on Northwest food, cooking, dining and restaurants.

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August 28, 2008 7:06 AM

I'll be the judge of that: part one

Posted by Nancy Leson

Since doffing my restaurant critic's hat and its attendant anonymity, I've been able to take part in some seriously fun food events. Including a couple of cooking contests -- like "Ready, Set, Go. . .Cook!": an Iron Chef-style competition held last Saturday at the U-District Farmers Market. That test of taste pitted Joseba Jimenez de Jimenez (chef/owner of Harvest Vine and Txori) and Jason Wilson (chef/owner of Crush) in a fight to the knife-wielding finish. I got to wield a fork. Nice work if you can get it, huh?

The chefs shopped for 15 minutes and spent another 45 creating a multi-course masterpiece of market-fresh memorables using their own salt, pepper and olive oil and a single "secret" ingredient from home. In the end Joseba won by a mustache hair: 81 points to Jason's 80. Clearly, there were no hard feelings:

They faced-off in front of a crowd of onlookers, including the looker in the black tank-top, Jason's wife (and Crush's co-owner) Nicole:

Seated in the crowd were me and my fellow judges, Farm Fresh Family Blogger Janet McDevitt and Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis, standing in for Hizzoner, who had other important tasks to attend to that day -- much to the Dep's delight:

Also in the crowd was Sara Singer, a longtime reader with whom I've shared many an e-mail, but had never before met in the flesh: until she tapped me on the shoulder, smiling a broad smile, and introduced herself --which made my already-wonderful day:

Presiding over this free event was Chris Curtis, the farm-fresh force who put the word "neighborhood" into our farmers-market lexicon:

Mistress of ceremonies (and founder of NuCulinary) Naomi Kakiuchi (seen here capturing a moment for posterity) lent colorful commentary throughout the competition:

And we all watched, wowed, as the two chefs duked it out, creating magic with market-fresh ingredients -- while regularly busting each other's chops in the process:

Interestingly, while shopping, they both chose the tiniest of foraged chanterelles, mussels and fresher-than-fresh halibut. Jason selected goat cheese, sea-beans and shiso from the market stalls while Joseba opted for zucchini, green beans, and salmon roe -- among other pristine purchases. There was fire (from Joseba, who skewered halibut with fresh vegetables):

And ice -- from Jason, who used dry ice whacked into a million pieces to create a gloriously creamy goat-cheese ice cream:

Here's the final act(s):

Joseba's halibut ceviche with ikura; salmon-stuffed zucchini "ravioli"; and elegant pan-seared halibut over beef stock-infused toast:

And Jason's aromatic curry-crusted halibut with sweet corn-emulsion and sea-bean salad, plus dessert -- goat cheese ice cream with strawberries, shiso and hazelnuts:

After the cook-off, I tooled around the market and ran into umpteen people I knew -- which is always the best part of hitting any farmers market, says me -- including a broad swath of the local fooderazzi.

Over at the "Chef in Residence" tent -- where you can ask a chef what to cook with your purchases -- I found chef-in-residence, PR maven and former Seattle P.I. food writer Hsiao-Ching Chou. She was hanging out with a trio of fab foodies: chef Danny Ahern (of Impromptu Wine Bar Cafe); his wife, Gluten-Free Girl Shauna James Ahern (seen holding their newborn daughter, Lucy Marie); and their pal and Tea & Cookies blogger, Tea (who, during our brief hello, seemed like a very nice cookie indeed):

Also in residence -- OK, they were shopping -- was Tom Black (late of the Barking Frog and 35th Street Bistro, now with Culinary Communion) and Bobby Moore (chef-exec at Barking Frog). I also ran into Campagne's chef-exec Daisley Gordon and his wife, Shelley, last seen on this blog dining in the courtyard at Campagne, more recently seen in their summer whites, looking like one of those "what the groovy people wear" photo-spreads in the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times:

Of course, I went shopping too. Here's the bountiful booty -- treat after fabulous locally-produced treat -- that I emptied my purse on:

So, nosy neighbors want to know: What's the one thing you just have to treat yourself to when you're shopping at our neighborhood farmers markets?

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