Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cheering for Team Sawyer

Chef Jonathon Sawyer is ambitious in a good way. He’s always got something new going on, striving to advance his reputation, build his career and get people in the doors of his two restaurants, Greenhouse Tavern and Noodlecat. And he’s committed to bringing the whole city with him into the spotlight.

That’s why he organized a tweetup to coincide with his appearance as a competitor on Iron Chef America Jan. 22 at 10 p.m. Instead of a simple watch party, attendees are being asked to tweet about the action. The idea is to turn Sawyer into a trending topic on Twitter with Cleveland coming along for the coast-to-coast promotional ride. The free event to be held at Greenhouse Tavern booked-up fast, so another one was offered at Noodlecat. There’s no space left for this one either. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the experience. Invite friends over. Get takeout from either place or make something wonderful to eat while watching and tweeting (use the hashtag #teamsawyer) at home. Pop corn, toss with melted butter, salt and Parmesan and just enjoy the show, without worry about greasy fingers.

The culinary cook-off pits Sawyer against Geoffrey Zakarian, winner of The Next Iron Chef Season 4. The gray-haired contender, who heads up multiple dining establishments in New York City, Miami and Atlantic City, looks more like a natty businessmen than a stove jockey. And he definitely had his work cut out for him going up against the Cleveland team, which included Sawyer’s talented right- and left-hand guys, Jonathan Seeholzer and Brian Goodman.

Abiding by his ironclad contract, Sawyer isn't breathing a word about the secret ingredient or the final outcome of his Food Network battle, but he still has plenty he can say.

“It was hard to portray the entirety of the Tavern style in just five courses,”  he says. “There was so much we wanted to do, but we only had an hour and had to keep it simple. Even so, I am absolutely pleased with the food we produced and how it defined us and the restaurant.”

And, the chef continues, it should be big fun to watch.

“We were super entertaining, loud, laughing and enjoying ourselves in the kitchen just like we always do," he says. “I hope that comes across to the viewers.”

Noting that he’s been in the hot seat before as an assistant when Michael Symon took on the challenge, he adds, “It is awesome and humbling to be the actual competitor instead of the sous chef.”

Another thing Sawyer’s doing for his hometown’s dining scene is hosting pop-ups. He’s using his national connections to bring in really great chefs from other cities to cook in his kitchen and making room for locals to shine too. Three of these one-night-only experiences are scheduled for January and February at Noodlecat: Lee Anne Wong returns to prepare a lunar new year feast on Jan. 21; Fresh Street of Columbus makes Japanese street food on Feb. 2; and Cory Barrett, a trained pastry chef now serving as executive chef at Lola does desserts on Feb. 13. Reservations for Bricks and Mortar Pop-Ups required.

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