An epic cooking battle between two exceptionally talented chefs is in the making. Two of Delaware's top chefs will take part in a live throwdown competition Saturday, Oct. 7, at the 3rd Annual Southern Delaware Wine, Food & Music Festival. The event, organized by Creative Coastal Connections Corp. and hosted by SoDel Concepts, will benefit Children & Families First, the Cape Henlopen Educational Foundation and the Delaware Restaurant Association's Educational Foundation. Tickets are currently on sale at sodelfest.com.
In keeping with last year's theme of north versus south (Delaware, that is), the two chefs going knife to knife in this year's competition are Doug Ruley, representing southern Delaware and Bryan Sikora, representing northern Delaware. Both chefs will donate their time and talent, creating a delicious dish in front of a live audience from a basket of ingredients kept secret from them until the moment they open it during the competition. Stacy LaMotta, organizer of the Southern Delaware Wine, Food & Music Festival, aka SoDel Fest, carefully selected this year's contestants based on their top-notch educational backgrounds and outstanding reputations. "The chef throwdown was a huge hit at last year's festival, and I am certain these dynamic chefs will amaze us, creating delicious dishes indicative of their own renowned personal styles," said LaMotta.
Born and raised in Elkton, Md., Ruley graduated from Johnson & Wales at the top of his class, continuing onward with success after success. During his tenure as executive chef at Iron Hill, the restaurant was awarded Best of Delaware: Best Restaurant for five consecutive years. But in 2006, the lure of Coastal Delaware called and Ruley joined SoDel Concepts, where he currently serves as vice president and director of culinary operations. Ruley has been the featured chef at the prestigious James Beard House four times, and he was also the head chef for Breaking Bread Behind Bars at the 2015 Mid-Atlantic Food and Wine Festival. "As the winner of last year's throwdown," said Ruley, "while I have a tremendous amount of respect for Bryan, I intend to defend my title."
Equally fired up for the competition, Sikora said, "Whether it's food, art or cooking, I am addicted to the process of creating." After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Sikora devoted much of his career to traveling and working in kitchens in Cape Cod, Mass.; Portland, Ore.; Washington, D.C.; and Philadelphia, to name a few. A James Beard Foundation finalist and winner of the StarChefs.com Rising Star Award, Sikora has successfully opened La Fia, Merchant Bar, Cocino Loco and most recently Hearth Kitchen. Sikora doesn't believe in culinary shortcuts, and this labor-intensive philosophy is evident in his cuisine. From baking his own bread to making his own pastas, pastries, and even pickles, Sikora subscribes to the Old World European philosophy of cooking.
The 2017 SoDel Fest will also feature representatives from 17 of coastal Delaware's best restaurants offering tasting menus, live music performances throughout the day, a wide variety of wines from around the world, and spirited drinks and craft brews for guests to enjoy. Attendees will also have the opportunity to bid on silent and live auction items, win some amazing bottles of wine from the wine wall and partake of sommelier-led tastings throughout the day.
Admission to the 2017 SoDel Fest ranges from $75 for general Festival Experience tickets to $249 per person for limited-availability Private Reserve Experience tickets. "Any true lover of food and wine will see the tremendous value and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity offered through our Private Reserve Experience," said LaMotta.
Providing guests with a full weekend of red carpet treatment, the Private Reserve Experience begins Friday evening, Oct. 6, with a six-course wine dinner led by Master Sommelier Larry O'Brien and Craig Ellick, ambassador of Stone Street Estate and Winery at the Clubhouse at Baywood Greens. The immersive and intimate treatment continues into the main festival Saturday, Oct. 7, with a VIP lounge area complete with seating and wait staff exclusively for the Private Reserve Experience guests. All ticket prices increase at the door, and prepurchase is strongly recommended. For more information about the 2017 SoDel Fest and to purchase tickets, go to sodelfest.com.