FOOD-THE DISH- Iron chefs? Chefs display culinary metal

Although they were eager readers, Joanna Yoakam (far right) and her staff at Sweet Peas Bistro didn't find a lucky essay writer to take over the Palmyra restaurant.

Forget Buff Bagwell, Stone Cold, and The Rock–Dish brings you The Ianator and Hungry Humphrey, two local chefs getting ready to rumble in Charlottesville's first-ever "Chef Ten" competition.    

Jacie Dunkle at Fellini's #9 is sponsoring the July 25 event, saying it's loosely based on the infamous Japanese "Iron Chef" competition, which pits one chef against another. In one corner, there'll be Ian Donahue from West Main, and in the other it's Fellini's own Chris Humphrey. 

Using the same secret ingredient (white nectarines, Dunkle tells Dish) in each of three courses, the two chefs will battle it out first at West Main and then at Fellini's #9. Guests and judges will meet at West Main to sample Donahue's three courses, then move over to Fellini's #9 for Humphrey's three. In addition, each course will be paired with wine selected by Dereck Robinson from Country Vintner, a large wine distributor in Louisa County, and with a presentation by Elinor Howell from In Vino Veritas, a wine, gourmet food, and cigar market in Keswick.

"Since neither West Main nor Fellini's have a large enough kitchen to house both chefs simultaneously," says Dunkle. "I thought this spliting of the courses would work.  So I hope it turns out to be fun and a great experience for the chefs and the guests"

Each course will be judged on a scale of 1 to 10, with each course winning in its own category.  The chef with the highest overall score will be crowned ChefTen!

Dunkle says the judges will be the participating guests, who can make reservations by calling her at 434-979-4279 ($70/person or $130/couple plus tax and gratuity), plus Chris Arseneault from Seafood @ West Main, Brooke Fedora from Horse & Hound, and freelance entertainment writer Jessica Calloway.  

But hurry! Dunkle says reservations for the culinary showdown are limited. 

Sweet good-bye peas

Back in March, Dish was skeptical about Sweet Peas Bistro owner Joanna Yoakam's plan to unload her Palmyra restaurant by "giving it away" to a lucky essay writer. The idea was to charge each essay writer a $199 entry fee, with the winning entry taking over the concept, the lease, and all the equipment for free. Yoakam figured if she got enough entries she could pay off her existing debt, plus give a lucky restaurant owner a debt-free head start.

"Why not do it this way?" she told Dish. "I love the idea that we're going to change the course of someone's life. I love that my employees will have a say in who comes on board. Mathematically, it makes sense. We will pay off our remaining business debt, and someone else will be able to start off without that monkey on their back."

Well, while Dish loved the idea, it appears Yoakam didn't get as many entries as she expected.  

"Although we received many entries for our contest," she says, "we did not receive enough to follow through with it in the end. We are selling the restaurant in the traditional way."

Yoakam says they've had several interested buyers, but nothing in ink yet. Although Sweet Peas closed its doors on June 30, Yoakam appears to have no regrets.

"We had one hell of a good-bye bash," she says. 

Scottsville reports

Our Scottsville connection, Deep Palate, says Minor's Diner is expanding and opened up an entirely new dining area– to accommodate its growing popularity, it seems. Nearby, 330 Valley, the deli/bar/restaurant opening up in the old Rivertown Rose spot, has been delayed due to extensive renovations, which include a room for pool tables and pinball machines. And the long-talked about Horseshoebend Tavern, a project first started by 330 Valley's owners, is still on hold, as the owners are hustling to finish the 330 Valley project first. 

Looks like that little town in the horseshoe bend of the James just might survive its culinary woes after all. We at Dish are keeping out fingers crossed.