On a blazing hot Saturday earlier this month, the East Bay hosted its version of the popular TV show Chopped. Sobre Mesa and alaMar Dominican Kitchen chef Nelson German and Lamont Perriman, who runs Montperi Catering & Events, went dish for dish at The Knife Fight Gauntlet, an event designed to show off the talents of local chefs in an outdoor cooking competition. This year, the secret ingredient was caviar which the chefs were expected to incorporate into their dish.
The winner would receive a customized knife courtesy of Your Last Knife. But, more importantly, for the remainder of the year the chef would enjoy the claim to fame of being Knife Fight Gauntlet champion.
“It’s just a beautiful thing about bringing people together, especially locally,” said German, who noted that after the worst of the COVID pandemic, it has been good to get people back together at events like this.
Hosted by Aaronnette “AK” King and Ahmad Mawwakkil, co-founders of Eat, Play Events and Catering (EPEC), and held at Urban Legend in Alameda, the competition was both fun and interactive. Guests who’d bought tickets got to taste the fruits of the chefs’ labor after watching the competition. The wine, from Urban Legend winery and Dashe Cellars, and the produce, from C&L produce, kept it local.
The organizers said the Knife Fight Gauntlet was started as an effort to support Black and brown chefs. “This is our way of being able to pay homage to not only Black and brown chefs, but [also] to the Bay Area in Oakland, with the fruit and the bounty that is always accessible,” said King.
In 2016, King and Mawwakkil, along with local chefs, hosted pop-up events at the now closed Steel Rail Public House & Cafe in Jack London Square. They were motivated by what they saw as a lack of attention and opportunities for Black and brown chefs in the Bay Area. The pop-up events offered chefs a chance to do what they love and show off their culinary chops. “Black and brown chefs were highly underrated in 2016 when we started this,” said King.
As the catering business grew, the pop-ups evolved into the larger, weekend-long Knife Fight Gauntlet showcase competition. The last battle was held pre-COVID, in 2019, when Baugh competed against chef German, who won the competition and has held the title since.
“We’re just getting people together, drinking wine, eating their food, cheering us on just watching us do what we love to do, it means a lot,” said German.
The Knife Fight Gauntlet in action
At Urban Legend, each chef was given 45 minutes to create a delectable dish with one condition: they had to incorporate caviar, the surprise ingredient. Dishes were judged in a tasting by a roundtable of judges including radio and events host Sterling James; Leilani Baugh, chef at Magnolia Street Wine Lounge & Kitchen in Oakland and owner of Vin En Noir, Napa; chef and podcaster David Sucio Guilloty; Wendy Sue Robinson from Market Hall Foods; and foodie friend Stephanie Jackson. The dishes were judged based on execution, appearance and taste.
The Oakland chefs are no strangers to cooking competitions. German competed in season 8 of Top Chef. Baugh competed on Beat Bobby Flay, and against Perriman in 2020 for The Black Food and Wine Experience; Perriman also competed in Vimeo’s Bringing it to the Table in 2016.
Sean Streete, the chef at Lita in Walnut Creek, showed up at the Knife Fight after following the work of German. He said he wanted to cheer on his industry colleagues. “Seeing the chefs work off-the-cuff is exhilarating and it makes me want to participate,” he said.
Perriman took the crown for 2023 with a grilled chicken with summer succotash, peaches, charred corn, peppers and using the caviar in a side salad. German created a peppery chicken dish topped with roasted pepper salsa. He used the caviar to make a caviar sauce with sofrito, plums and peaches.
In his acceptance speech Perriman said he was glad they were able to bring back the competition. “Our last battle was before quarantine so we’re real excited about coming back today and have a little fun and get out and see people,” he said.
”Losing to Lamont feels great but definitely a little disappointing. I’m really happy that we got to do it for the community and show out for our people and just cook good food [with] love and collaboration,” said German.
Knife Fight Gauntlet is slated to return in 2024 when Lamont Perriman will defend his title. For more information visit Knife Fight Gauntlet.