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all words: Robb Scott
all photos: Franz Mahr

Our fine city was lucky enough to host a recent cook-off at the Rock and Roll Hotel. The DC Taco Experiment, in conjunction with The Food Experiments and Brooklyn Brewery, was an open-call for all aspiring chefs within the DC metro area to show off their skills.

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Chefs of all skill-sets came out, rounding out the number of competitors at 26 different teams.

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Organizers Theo Peck and Nick Suarez are no strangers to culinary competitions—they have both competed in and hosted various competitions across the country. Suarez shared the motivation behind he and Peck’s desire to establish The Food Experiments series: “We’re trying to promote the amateur home chef. There’s little space for the person with the 9 to 5 day job, the person in the cubicle, but who loves to cook. We like to showcase food for many people, and get recognized for it, so we’re here for the unsung heroes of the culinary world.”

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The call for competitors enticed with not only bragging rights and cash prizes, but also various gift certificates, culinary wares, and a trip to Brooklyn for the national championships in September—chefs from New Orleans, Austin, Philadelphia, and many other major cities across the country will be in place to compete. Peck: “We wanted to go to the major cities on the east coast that are interesting and DC definitely falls in that category.”

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Being a test of an experimental nature, the taco offerings took many different forms and flavors—standouts included a a Sweet Potato Taco, Tofu Taco, and a taco prepared with Four Loko (via KeepFoodLegal—check them out, they’re pushing for an interesting initiative). Some took the “experiment” a bit too literal; Franny Thomas’ ‘Bluffin Muffin’ was essentially a basic corn muffin with bits of meat and corn baked inside. Others were more successful with their ingredient explorations: Starr Brothers’ “Walnut, Cinnamon, Chili Taquitos,” Team Awesome’s “Tu Ju Tofu Taco,” and Taqueria Rex’s “The Tacosaurus.”

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Judges included Amy McKeever of Eater DC, Mary Kong of Girl Meets Food, and Lauren DeSantes of Capitol Cooking—Suarez: “We contacted every food blogger, every beer lover, ever writer in each city and asked them do you want to be involved…  they seem to have very big food blogs here in DC, very influential, and so they were the perfect judges.”

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In talks with the different competitors, very few had any actual culinary experience—the majority were just in it for the experience. Surprising was the originality seen in the different dishes, a creativity that expanded beyond just what went inside the tacos. The judges were most impressed by those who went above and beyond: “I really liked the people that made their own homemade tortilla shells. No matter what type it was […] giving it some sort of extra flavor rather than just the bland shell” (DeSantes).

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Judge Mary Kong was delighted by the dishes “paired with drinks; one came paired with a [Bourbon] horchata, I thought that was fun.” The judges took in to account taste, originality, and creativity when making their decision; but as McKeever put it: “All the [dishes] with really good spice to them; those were all really memorable ones too.”

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As you might expect, it was quite a struggle to get through 26 different tacos—the amount of food was a quite overwhelming, even for the judges: “We had to wash it down with the Brooklyn Beer” (DeSantes). Why tacos you may be wondering: “We actually found that everyone loves tacos…  It’s a very versatile food item for an event like this” (Suarez).

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In choosing the winners, prizes were given to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners, with one set chosen by judges and another chosen by the audience. “A goal of ours is to have a really democratic event, so that’s why we have the judges vote, but we also have the audience vote” (Suarez). In terms of the audience decision, “It’s by ballots, by democracy, which DC knows a lot about—it’s all about democracy” (Peck).

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On whether or not such a competition will return: “I really hope so; I’d like to come back every year. I’ve gotta say, this has been an amazing competition, DC brought their A-game. I get to come to DC, and I haven’t been here since my field trip in eighth grade—just kidding. I hope that a field trip isn’t the only reason I come to DC” (Peck).

Audience Award:

1st — Taco-Centric (Subcomandante Canrnitas)

2nd — The Newlyweds (Saigon Señorita)

3rd — Hobo’s Tacos (Sweet Potato Tacos)

Judges Award:

1st — Rebel Food Army (Cuban Reuben Tacos)

2nd — Hobo’s Tacos (Sweet Potato Tacos)

3rd — C Rear (Colluding Carrots)

Nick & Theo Award:

Eric Zawacki (Oxtail Taco with a Basil Gin Shooter)

Spunky Assistant Award:

Braizing Babes (Spicy Sweet Crunchy Carnitas)

**A portion of the proceeds were in support of The Capitol Area Food Bank**

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