As you can see in our slideshow, Go Oak Cliff and Alliance Francaise De Dallas celebrated Bastille Day yesterday with a Francophile street festival featuring crepes, wine, a mussel cook-off, French maid obstacle course, the French bocce-like yard game petanque -- and an estimated crowd of 1,500, triple the organizers' most optimistic projections.
Go Oak Cliff's Rob Shearer, who emceed the contest, says the single overworked ticket stand sold out of mussel tickets a good 45 minutes before the cook-off began, and that the $10 refillable wine glasses and T-shirts all sold out as well.
"BrewRiot brought 500 or 600, and we were thinking it would be similar," he said. "It's a weeknight in July, it's 100 degrees out -- we thought we'd get 500 if we were lucky. But the lineup of chefs really helped get the word out."
That lineup included Marc Cassel (Park), Graham Dodds (Bolsa), Randal Copeland (AVA), David Uygur (Lucia), Tim Byres (Smoke), Kelly Hightower (Nova), Chad Kelley (The Meddlesome Moth), Tony Gardizi (Capriccio & Decanter) and Michelle Carpenter (Zen Sushi). The nine chefs were pitted in a three-round bout in which they were told to prepare three different recipes for a five-person panel of media members, including myself. Six of the chefs moved on to the second round, and three advanced to the final round.
Cassel, whose mussels at the Green Room are the stuff of legend, was widely expected to win handily. Incredibly, he didn't make it out of the first round. The news came as a shock to Shearer as well as the judges, who were not told which chef prepared which platter of mollusks.
"He's the mussel king of Dallas," Shearer said. "His Green Room mussels set the standard in Dallas. Randal from AVA and Graham from Bolsa both cooked at the Green Room. Several of the cooks have done time in his kitchen. In fact, there was the question of who was going to cook the Green Room mussels, because Randal's restaurant has them on the menu."
Novel takes -- particularly Michelle Carpenter's first-round completely reassembled sushi-style, roe-topped delicacies -- helped some advance, though Tim Byres' barbecue-style mussels with rabbit sausage were a first-round casualty. But ultimately, David Uygur's simple but flawless mussels in a luscious buttery, golden sauce with carrots and onion won out, with Carpenter's creamy jalapeño-spiked and elaborately presented mussels and Gardizi's aromatic Asian-inspired curried entry nipping at his heels.
If Uygur's restaurant, Lucia, doesn't ring a bell, that's because it hasn't opened yet. It's a small Italian place set to open this fall next to Dude, Sweet Chocolate.
"Hopefully, now that people know he can cook, it will do well," Shearer said.
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Especially if mussels are on the menu.