Chef Challenge

By Lee Musho
Photography by Prince Dudley
If you think Syracuse isn’t a food destination, know that many people agree with you. If you ask someone on the street where to eat, they’ll probably lead you to an overbearing plate of pasta, a slab of inauthentic brisket, or if it’s Wednesday, half-off sushi.

The minds behind Chef Challenge, a Chopped-inspired pop-up event, are determined to put Syracuse on the map and solve cuse’s culinary identity crisis.  

Since October of last year, Chef Challenge has been hosted at multiple restaurants across Syracuse. The head chef churns out a minimum of four courses from mystery boxes of local produce to over two dozen people who stand eagerly watching, phones in hand.

chef jpeg 2
Sous Chef Shayne Cohen at The Mission


The last Chef Challenge was hosted by The Mission Restaurant, where head chef and owner Steve Morrison and his sous chef, Shayne Cohen, served a 5-course meal. It began with sunchoke soup, drizzled with parsley-jalapeño oil, and sprinkled with bacon lardons, with a curled leaf of fried sage resting on top. Next was a pickle plate by Cohen, with sunchokes, shiitake mushrooms, watermelon radishes, ancho chiles, and Idared apples, quick pickled and cooled, allowing them to retain their flavor.


Chefs Challenge Course 1
First Course


Chefs Challenge course 2
Second Course


The chef kept his dishes true to The Mission’s Latin American background, also serving a blue corn tostada, with mushrooms from Little Sprouts Farm outside Rochester, guacamole, and a poached farm fresh egg. Then came pollo en escabeche, a whole chicken from Grindstone Farm, rubbed down with a multitude of spices and braised in a vinegar-based sauce. Morrison finished the night with a savory fruit-filled empanada.


Chefs Challenge course 3


Josh Rhoades and Ashley Murray from Pragmatic and Fresh, the minds behind Chef Challenge, say these events will make people want to travel to Syracuse for a meal. “We were looking to cities like Buffalo and Rochester which have had a huge food and art explosion in recent years, and they keep getting listed as top destinations to live, but Syracuse has the exact same background, as a Rust Belt city,” Murray says. “We realized we could use it [Chef Challenge] as a way to elevate Syracuse as a city. We want to connect a chef, a farmer, and a foodie, and start a conversation.”

At first glance, it seems like a pipe dream, but their insatiable drive to show the world that Syracuse is somewhere worth visiting is infectious. The event has grown over the past few months, and tonight’s event at Otro Cinco is already sold out at $55 a ticket. Tickets for the next event on April 16th at the Grotto are on sale here

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