Friday, December 8, 2023

Iron Chef-inspired contest to decide the best food truck crab dish

One of the contest's contenders and a regular at the Virginia Beer Company, Capt'n Crabby. (WYDaily Photo/Virginia Beer Company)
One of the contest’s contenders and a regular at the Virginia Beer Company, Capt’n Crabby. (WYDaily Photo/Virginia Beer Company)

This weekend, as part of the 72-hour Big Weekend Bash at the Virginia Beer Company including a Veterans open mic, live music and more, three well-known food trucks will battle it out for trophies and bragging rights at Saturday’s Clash of the Food Trucks.

Known colloquially as “rodeos”, according to Anna Castine, owner of Chesapeake Concessions, contests and awards are a common occurrence in the food truck world. 

But this time it’s a little different. You’ll be a judge.

Billed on the Facebook event page as an “Iron Chef-style culinary challenge” in reference to the popular Food Network TV show, attendees shouldn’t expect an over-the-top host, blinding stage lights or dry ice spilling from the oversized secret ingredient tray. But what they can expect, according to Virginia Beer Company co-founder Robby Willey, is a themed competition and each truck presenting a similar dish “even if their menus [are] otherwise very diverse.” 

“We love the idea of promoting how beer and food pairs well together…it’s been a big part of our business since day one,” Willey said.

And, of course, the secret ingredient, which turns out to be not-so-secret: crab, Willey said, as well as the event’s quippy subtitle — “CRAB a friend.”

Willey said they were looking for “something a little different,” “something summer-inspired,” and pointed to this year’s rise in the blue crab population.

“And we said: Well, we’ve actually got some really, really good seafood trucks and this is the time of year where you think about crabs,” Willey said.

Willey said although the three trucks know their way around a crab dish, there was an attempt to “diversify the trucks” to keep the competition (and the eats) interesting. 

They fall into three categories: one local, one from afar, and one brand new to the Virginia Beer Company grounds. 

Fish Food by Uncle Russ’ Dockside Seafood Market is the hometown hero, though new to the food truck game, Capt’n Crabby is the visiting team, hailing from Norfolk, and Chesapeake Concessions is appearing at the venue for the first time.

“I’m kind of the new kid on the block,” said Russ Gibbons, owner of the Fish Food truck and its patron, Uncle Russ’ Dockside Seafood Market. “So it’s a little bit exciting to get out here and rumble with the big boys and see what we’ve got going on.”

Willey said “the full expanse of the property” will be splayed open, including the sidewalk and the production side, where the beer is made, with each truck placed around the premises — from front to back.

Willey added each truck, in addition to their competition dish, will be offering their full menu, and guests are encouraged to “nibble” on each, while participating in brewery tours, cornhole and other activities. But it all comes to a head in the evening when everyone will crowd the judging table.

First three local judges, professionals and regulars in the food world, will do a live tasting of each dish and declare their personal winner. Then it’s the public’s turn. Slips of paper will be passed out and anybody with a preference can help declare the people’s choice champion.

Just like the other trucks in the lineup, Castine and Chesapeake Concessions is comfortable with seafood. She’s been a commercial chef for two decades and is looking forward to showing off her talents, currently juggling her crab cake, crab queso bacon fries and crab fritters as contenders. Castine said she’s primarily excited for the fun of participation, but seems confident that she has a chance to come home the winner.

“I have the plaques from last fall for my other wins, so I can definitely add this to the wall,” she said.

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