Executive Chef Perry Mascitti, of the Tulalip Resort Casino, had a vision for a different kind of cooking competition. He wanted to remove the stuffiness, set the competition at a frantic pace, and keep the crowd enthralled more like a sporting event than a white-table cloth tasting.

Where to begin? Mascitti felt blasting rock and roll music would be a good start. “It’s not a super serious thing and we don’t want it to be,” he says. “We want it to be fun. The idea here is for the audience and everybody to have fun, and to watch these really high-level chefs do their thing.”

The seventh annual Taste of Tulalip Rock N’ Roll Cooking & Sommelier Challenge will take place November 14 in the Orca Ballroom at the Tulalip Resort Casino in Quil Ceda Village, Washington.

The event is part of the resort’s Taste of Tulalip two-day event, which showcases wine and food from its culinary team. The Rock N’ Roll competition is something Mascitti calls a “rollercoaster,” and an event everyone circles as soon as the schedule is announced. In addition to the musical backdrop, which ranges in selections from the 80s until today, the introduction of sommeliers to the challenge has always offered a different layer, Mascitti says.

As the chefs are cooking their dishes with the “mystery boxes,” the sommelier has to seek out a perfect wine to pair, which ends up as part of the judging. They scramble across the stage, perusing the bountiful selection in search of a label that could top the scales. One year, a surprise ingredient was gummy bears. The memory of finding an ideal sipping complement to the packaged product brought out a quick laugh from Mascitti. Despite the lighter nature of the event, however, he says the chefs don’t hide their intentions. “These chefs are really serious. If they tell you they’re not, they’re not telling you the truth,” he says. “They’re all under the gun.”

Each team consists of one local chef, one Tulalip chef, and a local sommelier. This year’s lineup includes: Toby Smith, of The Ruins Seattle; Eric Truglas and Dean Shinagawa, of Kama’aina Grindz; along with Tulalip Chefs Nikol Nakamura, John Jadamec, and John Ponticelli. The Sommelier group is Chris Horn, of Purple Cafe Seattle; Dawn Smith, of John Howie Steak; and Kristin Young, of Bastille Cafe and Bar. 

After opening a mystery box, the chefs will be allowed up to five minutes to discuss the dish with their team and then 30 more to execute it.

One of the boxes will be exposed. The chefs will draw whisks, like picking straws, to see who ends up with what ingredients. Also, for the first time, the audience will pick the protein.

Mascitti is interested to see if the crowd elects for something they might actually eat, or a complicated, complex choice that will test the creative limits of the contestants.

Five honorary judges [Chef Chris Cosentino, of Cockscomb and Boccalone; Chef Thierry Rautureau, of Loulay Kitchen and Bar; Chef T, of Rione XIII; culinary expert Mauny Kaseburg, and one member from the audience], will vote for the two finalists, and then the audience will get to pick the winner. Food presentation, creativity, use of the mystery basket, and the best wine pairing, will be taken into consideration.

“We want there to be a lot of laughing, a lot of joking, a lot of twists and turns on this challenge this year,” Mascitti says. “All of that will make this a good show for the audience, and a good challenge for the chefs. We’re all looking forward to it.”

Danny Klein

Chef Profiles, Industry News