All photos by Liz Barclay
The first rule of a nacho battle is, naturally, that there are no rules.
That precedent was established pretty clearly last year at the first annual First We Feast nacho cook-off, when Empellón jefe Alex Stupak accepted a challenge from DJ/home cook Dieselboy (né Damian Higgins). It was a David and Goliath affair—as mismatched and random as a curling match between Canada and Sudan—but it was born out of that heady mixture of hard liquor and smack talk that spawns all the best competitions, like duels and arm-wrestling matches.
Needless to say, Stupak took the first nacho-battle crown—actually a plastic viking helmet—but the big surprise was how well Dieselboy cooked. So well, in fact, that we all agreed he deserved another shot at glory.
This being real life, though, we decided that second chances shouldn’t come easy, so we stacked the chips (sorry) even further against Dieselboy by adding three more chefs to the competition: Wylie Dufresne (wd~50, Alder), Michael Anthony (Gramercy Tavern), and Seamus Mullen (Tertulia, El Colmado).
As life-long nacho obsessives, we were blown away by how the chefs took nachos as a blank canvas for their individual cooking styles. Dufresne laced his chips with fried foie gras cubes and whipped out avant-garde tricks like “black olives” made from pressed truffles, while Anthony unleashed Gramercy Tavern’s farm-to-table philosophy—anchored by local ingredients like Cabot cloth-bound cheddar from Jasper Hill Farms—on his fully-loaded platter. And Dieselboy rose to the challenge, wisely preserving the spirit of last year’s nachos while tweaking the individual elements based on feedback from the judges. He even enlisted the wizards at Momofuku Culinary Lab to freeze citrus with liquid nitrogen for a modernist pico de gallo, made with pomelo pips (“pip-o de gallo”).
Of course, serious nacho competition required a serious judging panel made up of Francis Lam (who also judges Top Chef Masters), Kat Kinsman (editor of CNN’s Eatocracy), and Mari Uyehara (Food & Drink editor of Time Out New York)—all nacho scholars of the highest order.
Let’s be honest—who ever though that nachos would make it this far?
Watch all the action in the video above, then check out photos from the competition—as well as the final scores—below.
From top left, clockwise: Michael Anthony, Seamus Mullen, Wylie Dufresne, Alex Stupak, Dieselboy
The chefs were each allowed a sous chef if they wanted one, and they were allowed to use any ingredients and tools they required in the pursuit of nacho perfection.
From left to right: Kat Kinsman, Mari Uyehara, Francis Lam
While the challenge was simply to make the best nachos possible, scoring was designed to give proper weight to the most important aspects of nacho-making: Taste, scored 0-10, counted three times; creativity, scored 0-10, counted twice; and presentation, scored 0-10, counted once.
Seamus Mullen’s “Próbiochos”
The breakdown: Flackseed-and-quinoa crisps with raw cow’s-milk cheese, kimchi puree, avocado-and-kefir puree, fermented cabbage, cilantro, and pickled peppers. Final score: 116/180
Dieselboy’s “Basic Nachos”
The breakdown: Tortilla chips with pork gravy, cheese sauce, pomelo-pip pico de gallo, grapefruit crema, smoked pickled jalapeño, cilantro, and lime. Final score: 120/180
Alex Stupak’s Oaxacan-style nachos
The breakdown: Oaxacan-style black beans with avocado leaf, short-rib barbacoa, crumbled chorizo, shredded quesillo, pasilla-chile salsa, crema, cilantro, onion, and lettuce. Final score: 148/180.
Wylie Dufresne’s “Foiechos”
The breakdown: Vadouvan tortilla chips with fried foie gras, apples, truffle “black olives,” brie-and-Calvados cheese, and refried lentils. Served with bottled French 75s. Final score: 153/180
Michael Anthony’s beer-marinated smoky beef nachos
The breakdown: Polenta-masa chips with beer-marinated beef, grilled salsa verde, wild rice, shell beans, homemade ají dulce pickles, and Cabot cloth-bound cheddar. Final score: 168/180.
More scenes from the battle…