Photographing a Fighting Championship–Food Edition

Every once in a while, an event comes along that I just absolutely love photographing. Well, that’s a lie. I love photographing most an yevent, especially if free food is involved and there are no celebrity fist fights. Okay, I’ve never actually seen one of those, but I sure would have loved if Rachael Ray had thrown a punch at her husband back at that event in 2006. It would have spiced things up a bit. The event I’m speaking of is all about food. And for me, it’s free. Heck, it’s even better than free when you’re paid to do it! Culinary Fight Night pits two chefs against each other in a live, 3-course, head-to-head battle staged in a regulation-size boxing ring. Each chef has a sous-chef at his side to help cook an appetizer, entrée, and dessert using three secret ingredients. These bonus ingredients range from Lap Xoung (Chinese sausage) to Lucky Charms to cuttlefish ink. It’s never not exciting! You might say that Culinary Fight Night seems to be copying Chopped, but in fact founder Walt Henderson started CFN in Atlanta many years ago—before Chopped and similar shows existed. Also, this live “show” has the added stress of cooking for a live audience. Downstairs in the kitchen of the restaurant where the event is held, a team of 6-10 more chefs (along with the competing chefs before and in between dishes) are busy preparing mini versions of each dish to serve to an audience of more than 80. As you can imagine, it gets pretty hectic both in the kitchen and on the floor. But what matters most is not what the paying audience members think: It’s what the panel of five judges feel that ultimately determines the winner. Of course, since I get backstage passes to eat all of the food, am I not the winner as well? No, because the real winner gets $1,500 for themselves and $1,500 for a charity of their choice. Winners advance after each round and eventually compete in the March 2014 finals, where one will win $10,000. Not bad, not bad at all. It’s a lot of work and running around for me, but it is also the most fun I’ve had photographing an event since my work on the Food Network sets. Don’t get too hungry, aight? And if you’re in New York City in the next couple of months, maybe I’ll see you stuffing your face at the next CFN round! I’ll photograph you doing it, of course.

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