This year's team includes Philippe Striffeler of the Hotel Nikko, Ty Mahler of Roy's, Scott Whitman of Sushi Ran, Arturo Moscoso from the Inn at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach, and Damon Bartham of the California Culinary Academy (the CCA has been providing practice kitchens, and will send five of its top students as assistants).
Striffeler told SFoodie that each chef has his own specialty. "I do the appetizers, but also the organization," he said "making sure they're all on time. I'm Swiss, after all!" San Francisco's Asian Chefs Association counts among its members many non-Asians like Striffeler, a veteran of kitchens in Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Japan, and Vietnam. Ty Mahler of Roy's, who was on the 2007 team, enjoys the camaraderie. "We work together so well," he said. "We break it down, like a French brigade. Scott and I specialize in seafood, but I like doing it all."
For the first round, the chefs will prepare a seven-course menu of their choosing. It's meant to display a range of techniques and flavors, both Western and Eastern. Among the courses are Peking duck terrine and foie gras with Quing Tao Riesling gélée and a pickled plum compote, and a barbecue pork-cheek sandwich with cabbage slaw, pork belly, black bean riblets, sausage, and pickled vegetables. Time: three hours.
Two teams go head-to-head in the final round, cooking from a mystery box from which they're supposed to conjure up seven equally impressive dishes. They have an hour to figure out what they're cooking (including a cost analysis) and 3 1/2 hours to cook it. "It's an enormous amount of pressure," Striffeler told us, "but we love the competition. It's a lot of fun."
The winner receives $300,000 Taiwanese dollars, which sounds more impressive than its equivalent in U.S. currency: $9,153.07. But the bragging rights -- and adrenaline - are priceless. The chefs told also us the competition influences what shows up on their menus at home. Here' hoping part -- or all -- of the barbecue pork-a-palooza course shows up in town. Let us know, guys!