Last month, I wrote about a competition that I was invited to attend as a media person, and the breakfast meet and greet that went with it. Well, the finale event of the competition was 3 weeks ago, and it was wonderful! I apologize for the delay in writing about it, but 2 days after the event I flew to Texas to keep my mother company while she recovered from surgery, and I just got back! So let's talk about this thing!
As I mentioned before, Launch Pad is a competition sponsored by Mess Hall, Ris, and Union Market to give culinary entrepreneurs a jump start. The winner of the competition would take over the Ris stall in Union Market for 6 months.
I had never been to Union Market before this, so I got there early in order to wander around. This place is so cool! They were having a farmers market outside, with live music, and inside is a series of stalls with all kinds of food. What a foodie dream!
I really wish that I lived closer to this market, because it is really cool. I hope that you DC dwellers are appreciating this!
The Launch Pad event took place in Dock5 - the event space at Union Market. It really is a big industrial loading dock that you can set up any way that you like for your event.
We were instructed to sample the food from the five finalists and to cast our vote - which would count for 5% of the total. In the photo, you can see the criteria the judges would be using.
First up was Arepa Zone - owners Ali Arellano and Gabriela Febres operate a food truck specializing in Venezuelan food, and wanted to expand to a brick and mortar location. We got to sample their tequeños (fried cheese sticks), arepas (grilled corn patty with fillings), arroz con leche (rice pudding), and papelón con limón (lemonade with sugar cane). I thought everything was great, especially the chicken salad with avocado arepa.
Next was Bao Bros Bar - a boa only concept from Louis Grayson and Nelson Wong. I enjoyed the (pork belly?) bao, but thought that the bun was a little dense. The mango salad was delicious!
Bene was my favorite concept idea - fast-casual Italian fare from Mark Baik, Mini Suh, and Jin Woo Park. They had a rolled lasagna type pasta, a pasta with ragu, and a tripe salad with radicchio. I ate the tripe off my salad and threw the rest away - too bitter for me! But I enjoyed both of the pastas.
Whisked is a bakery with an established presence at farmers markets and local coffee shops, but owner Jenna Huntsberger wanted to open her first brick and mortar location. They had so many cookies, pies, and quiches to sample. Yum.
By the time I got to Halfsmoke (concept by Andre McCain), I was totally stuffed. And I am not a huge sausage fan, anyway (haha), so I didn't actually try a sample.
Now, if you thought all we got to try was a ridiculous amount of free food, you would be wrong. Because there was also a ridiculous amount of free booze! Man, I love my job.
Here are the recipes for the four of the featured cocktails, each sponsored by a different restaurant or liquor brand. Haha - check out the reflection of me taking a picture in each of those! >_<
My favorite was, by far, the "What a Looker" Punch made with Knappogue Castle 12 yr Single Malt Irish Whiskey and Pallini Limoncello. It was light, sweet, refreshing, and served with a big sprig of basil in a copper mug (that I got to keep!). So good. This one was put together by Buffalo & Bergen.
Local brewery Bluejacket was also there with some tasty brews (loved the Mexican Radio stout), as well as a winery that I didn't even make it around to (they showed up late).
Finally it was time for the presentations! Opening remarks were given by Al Goldberg, founder of Mess Hall, and Chef Ris Lacoste, Chef/Owner of RIS. Then the rest of the judges were introduced: David Hall (Investor, Revolution), Drew Nieporent (Restaurateur, Myriad Restaurant Group), Patrick O’Connell (Chef/Owner, The Inn at Little Washington), Aaron Silverman (Chef/Owner, Rose’s Luxury), and Katsuya Fukushima (Chef/Owner, Daikaya). I was a little bit bummed that we never got the opportunity to chat with any of the judges, but I understand that they are busy people.
Then the finalists gave their 10 minute presentations (that time limit was serious, a few of them were cut off!). Gabriela Febres from Arepa Zone stood out to me, because she got emotional when showing slides of their food truck when they first got it and how it looks now. It was very sweet and showed how much passion she has. Andre McCain from Halfsmoke also stood out for his very professional presentation. He definitely knows the business side of things. What I didn't understand from the presentation, and was told about later, is that he didn't intend on making his own sausages. Rather, he was going to source them from elsewhere. I felt a little duped and mislead about that, plus - a sausage concept that doesn't make their own sausages? Come on!
Anyway, I don't seem to have a photo from Whisked's presentation, which I feel especially bad about because the crowd was particularly rowdy during her portion, and I felt like she was having to strain to be heard. Which reminds me to mention the fabulous MC - Nevin Martell - who tried his best to get people to shut the heck up and listen to the presentations. Or at least to take their chatter outside. I was really upset about this behavior, actually, this is the main event and these people's dreams and livelihoods were on the line! I seriously wanted to smack some people - so rude!
Finally, after a lot of deliberation (fortunately we were shown to another space with even more samples to try while we waited), the contestants were gathered and the winner was announced! The newest concept to open in Union Market is...
...Arepa Zone! Congratulations!!! So please, stop by the market and show them your support, I know it would mean a lot to them.