Pandemic activity turns into weekly cooking contest at The Exchange
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – The Thursday Throwdown began as a fun cooking contest with friends back home during my forties. Now it’s a weekly kitchen hosted at The Exchange, with a knockout tournament.
Cooking is similar to Food Network’s cooking show Chopped; competitors have one hour to prepare a meal where they must use four different fresh products supplied locally by Dagon produce, a local beer chosen by the bar, and a surprise protein ingredient. The cooks then present their food to the judges, who give them marks, and a winner is chosen.
“It’s just a great way to get a lot of people here throughout the evening and stay and have fun the night away,” said Tony Nichols, executive chef of The Exchange. “It’s just a lot of fun man, everyone is really enjoying it and are excited about it.”
Although it started at home, once made public it became a success. Nichols said a few dozen people came each week to watch the cooks compete, and the bar even installed a camera and monitor for people to watch in the bar lounge. The best part for the audience: they can eat the food too.
“The contestants prepare three appetizer-sized servings for the judges and about 20 other servings that the public can sample for free, so anyone can come anytime,” Nichols said.
Devan Hoelscher and Shanda Cunningham are cooking students from Del Mar College who competed as a team in the semi-final of the competition on Thursday. One day, they showed up for a meeting at The Exchange, found out about the competition, and decided to enter.
“We were invited with the school, met Chef Tony, he was like, ‘hey, we need people for our competition’, and somebody signed us up, ”Hoelscher said, pointing to Cunningham.
The Del Mar duo faced Matt Hole in the semifinals, who has no culinary training.
“I love to cook, my parents are passionate cooks, my whole family who grew up in England loved to garden and cook our own produce. I’m just passionate about food, ”Hole said.
After the last year and more with the pandemic, applicants are just happy to have events like this to take advantage of.
“Just being able to go out, move around and eat in a restaurant is wonderful. To be able to do events like this, it’s fun, ”Hole said.
“The variety, the challenge of creating something and just being in public is fun,” Hoelsher said. “And just meeting new people, competing, having the ability to try and cook new things that we probably wouldn’t have on a daily basis,” Cunningham added.
The competition takes place every Thursday evening at The Exchange, starting at 7:30 am. The finals of the current competition will take place on June 10, but a new competition will start again the following week.
“It’s just exploded, I already have people signing up for the next tournament, so it’s going to stick around as long as people want to,” Nichols said.
Those interested in registering to compete can contact Nichols through The Exchange’s Facebook page.