The Great American Cookoff: Paula Topples a Champ

The Great American Cookoff

A few weeks ago I battled Iris in the last Rusty Chef (not quite Iron) competition. We both prepared a Mexican meal — I made pork tacos and elote with a Mexican chili pudding, and Iris made a bunch of amazing food that beat out mine. Iris defeated our friend Mario in two other cookoffs, one French, the other Italian. Iris is the Rusty Chef Champ, which, as her former roommate, doesn’t surprise me. She’s diligent and loves dissecting recipes and approaches food preparation from a healthy, fun perspective. I like “whipping something up” and rarely pay attention to the measurement details.

I invited Paula to be a eating participant/judge for the last cookoff, and she was so impressed and inspired that she challenged Iris right after we announced she’d won. We determined then that it would be New American, and the two set off to find the perfect way to capture the ol’ US of A.


And it wouldn’t be an American cookoff without some stiff competition.

Paula's all smiles as she shows off her food.

I arrived with a bottle of red and an empty stomach right before Paula served her appetizer, a spinach salad with cut up apples, walnuts and Belgian feta. “This is fancy American,” she said, sharing that it’s a favorite salad to make at home, and her home is in America, so it counts. The salad was filling and fresh, with the Belgian feta — a slightly creamier version of the more popular Greek kind — being the best part.

Iris served her appetizer next. It was a slider, served on a buttermilk biscuit with carmelized onions and a spicy mayo. The biscuit was flakey and tender, the beef cooked perfectly. It was hard voting between the two very different 1st course options.

Iris serving up her buttermilk biscuit sliders.

Paula and Iris took a vastly different approach to the main course, too; Paula served up your classic meat and potatoes, with a barbecued filet, potatoes and asparagus with hollandaise sauce. Iris made a baked mac n’ cheese with smoked paprika, gouda and bacon. Both were executed well, although some complained that the steak was too rare (never a problem for me.)


Shit got real when it came time for the final course, dessert. Iris whipped up a mini sundae shooter, with homemade caramel sauce, vanilla ice cream with some popcorn on top. It was clever and fun. Paula, inspired by one of her favorite cities, New Orleans, made corn bread with a strawberry sauce.

Judging between the two was hard. I’m close with both, so I couldn’t really pick favorites. And both had such different interpretations of the theme that it was really like comparing apples and oranges. I made my votes, they were divvied up my and we waited with the rest of the judges to see who won.

Waited and drank lots of wine, which helped.

Ernie came back out after some scoring questions (“Do you round up half a point or keep it as it?”)


It was close, but the winner of the Fourth Rusty Chef Competition was, for the first time, not Iris. Paula — inspired by steakhouses and trips down south — defeated Iris’ spread of plates inspired by American classics.

And, as the tradition goes, it didn’t take long for the next challenge to emerge: Mario vs. Paula. We decided on a grill-off, to be held on the Ridgewood roof deck. Date TBA.

The group split after the winner was announced — some to watch Game of Thrones while others to sing karaoke at Saints and Sinners. God bless America.

Photo Credit: @erndb