Top Chefs Go Head-to-Head With Malaysian Cooking

By: Victoria Phillips

When we received the invite to attend Malaysia Kitchen's first Rendang Cook-Off, I'll admit I had to Google what rendang even was. A favorite dish in Malaysian culture, rendang calls for lots of lemongrass, ginger, turmeric, chiles and various other spices. Although it's usually made with beef, the layers of flavor go well with any hearty, slow-cooked meat (and taste even better the next day).

To showcase the latest Asian dish to become popular in the United States, six New York City top chefs took over the Astor Center and went head-to-head in a rendang battle of the bites. Angelo Sosa, Anita Lo and Dale Talde of Top Chef fame, plus Shaun Hergatt of SHO, Todd English and Fatty Crab's Zak Pelaccio, each gave brief demonstrations showing off their culinary chops and chatting up the crowd with stories of their Malaysian travels.

Diners were given a scorecard and awarded each chef up to five points in originality and taste. To familiarize the guests with its classic flavors, a traditional beef rendang was served over yellow rice, and then the competing six chefs were given free reign to prepare a rendang with their creative spin.

Angelo Sosa, a recent competitor on the latest installment of Top Chef All-Stars, was "all about flavor profiles," he said. To add an extra element of earthiness, he left the ginger skin on while preparing his dish. His Sweetbread Rendang recipe was moist, and the mousse underneath was luscious and milkshake-like.

Anita Lo, chef and owner of Annisa, prepared a hot and cold rendang duo. The hot part of the dish consisted of Short Ribs topped with Rice Chips, and the cold was a Tartare with Chile and Coconut. Although heat crept into every bite, it was never too overpowering.

Dale Talde, owner of Talde in Brooklyn, said his inspiration for this rendang interpretation was the flavor profile of dry curry and complete laziness. In true form to his approach on Top Chef All-Stars, he used liquid nitrogen to freeze lemongrass. As the pieces literally shattered, he put them in the blender to form a lemongrass dust for his Spanish Mackerel Rendang with Green Curry. After eating multiple beef rendang's I appreciated his fresh approach. All of the textures went together well, and it all culminated in one delicious bite.

Shaun Hergatt's Beef and Pork Rendang with Chopped Peanuts and Toasted Coconut was traditional and robust. His tip for a flavorful dish every time: "Make sure your meat is seasoned with salt from the start."

As Todd English whipped up his "North Africa meets Asia" Braised Short Rib Rendang Meatball (served with Fried Onion, Red Chili and Scallion) heavenly scents wafted around the room. The crispy outside gave way to a tender meatball middle, and I found the presentation to be extremely playful.

Fatty Crab's Zak Pelaccio rounded out the pack with his Smoked Brisket Rendang. One piece of meat was extra crispy while the other was extremely tender, and I could eat bowl fulls of the coconut rice and kimchi turnips.

So who was crowned the Rendang Cook-Off champ?

Angelo and his Sweetbread Rendang recipe pulled out the win. In a teary victory speech dedicated to his son with a chromosomal disorder, Angelo donated his $5,000 from Malaysia Kitchen to Chromosome18, a research society for chromosomal disorders that affect health and development.

We managed to get the top recipes so you can try them at home and tell us your fave:

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