By Emily Clark | Wicked Local – Plymouth
PLYMOUTH – Sometimes there’s no better way to celebrate great food than a fabulous food fight.
A fabulous food fight that benefits a great cause is even better.
Meet The Food Truck Burger Battle which pits two gladiator chefs against one another, spatula to spatula, in their respective food trucks. The mission? To create the best burger. The danger? Splatter, of course.
Loretta LaRoche Productions is hosting this delicious event, which features two monster mobile kitchen trailers – FoodZilla On Wheels and Alden Park’ed. Chef Ray Alongi, who was a featured contestant on Fox TV’s “Hell’s Kitchen,” will man FoodZilla where he will unleash his culinary expertise on an unsuspecting hamburger. Meanwhile, in Alden Park’ed, Alden Park Chef Brent Clark will apply his wizardry to create his own version of the best burger.
All of it takes place from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3, outside the JC Penny store at the Hanover Mall at 1775 Washington St., Hanover.
Entry is free and the event will feature live music, a beer tent, plenty of food, and burgers, of course. Proceeds will benefit research for ALS.
Alongi served in the Marines before cutting a figure for himself as a chef.
“I guess once a Marine always a Marine,” Loretta LaRoche Productions President Erik Christensen said. “He’s very passionate. He’s owned a few restaurants. He can cook anything. Clark is a Culinary Institute of America chef, school trained, versus hard knocks with Chef Ray. It’s going to be fun.”
Clark, who lives in Middleborough with his wife and two children, took some time out of his work at Alden Park to chat about the upcoming event and share his background.
He grew up in Terrehill, Pennsylvania, where he said he fell in love with cooking while working at a diner. He was only 14 when the cook pulled him from his dishwashing gig.
“He just threw me on the grill,” Clark said. “I loved it. I fell in love with making people happy with flavors.”
As Christensen said, Clark completed his degree at the Culinary Institute of America in New York where he and his peers would have “Oodles of Noodles” cook-offs in the dorms.
“You couldn’t use the packaged spices; you had to use anything else in your pantry,” Clark explained. And, while Clark is a culinary champion who interned at The Four Seasons restaurant in Costa Rica, his favorite food is chocolate. He said his stint in Costa Rica was life-changing.
“It was make-or-break,” he said. “They throw you into the fire, and you either rise to the top and start sizzling with everybody or you fall in the fire and burn to ashes.”
It was also a pivotal time for this peninsula area where the restaurant was located and where houses were selling at about $350,000 a pop. By the time Clark was on the plane back to the States, The Four Seasons had expanded to six more locations on the peninsula and that $350,000 home was selling for $1.5 million.
The restaurant business is a stressful one, Clark explained, that involves a balancing act worthy of a tightrope walker. If a hostess seats too many diners too quickly, the chef can get overloaded with orders and the kitchen suddenly ramps into chaos. There are so many pieces to the dining experience, including the chef, the wait staff, the hostess, the food, the vendors, table bussers and more.
“It’s not war, but it is a battle,” he said. “We’re here for the guests. If we screw up we all feel it.” Clark has worked in a number of restaurants including the one in the Wequassett Inn, where the manager was cool as a cucumber under pressure cooker situations.
“I told him ‘We’re slammed,’ and he came in as cool as ice and in 15 minutes had it under control,” Clark said. “I thought, ‘I want to be like that.’”
Clark is like that and has a congenial, fun-loving personality that you can imagine helps him lead in the kitchen. But he also has to put his foot down occasionally, he said, or rue the consequences, like when a room full of hungry people have to wait for their meal. It’s the reason why hostesses delay seating diners in some instances, even if there is an empty table, he said. People feel differently about having a drink at the bar and a chat with the bartender while waiting for a table. But, seat them at a table and they expect service. A diner’s expectations have to be met.
Alongi has a similar take on the restaurant and food industry. He lives in Weymouth and grew up in Quincy in the restaurant business. His father was a renowned chef and his godfather was considered one of the best chefs in the country. He cooked for Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to America, was a member of the prestigious Les Amis d’Escoffier Society and won multiple best chef designations including the Steward’s Club Award.
Alongi learned technique from his godfather and father and went on to own and run his own restaurants.
“I am more of a classic French trained chef,” he explained. “My dad and godfather were classically trained. My style has evolved through phases. I stay current. Right now, I am very much into molecular and modernist cuisine.”
Alongi works as a chef for the Bruins and also for another upscale company.
“I like making people happy,” he said. “I enjoy the ‘Wow Factor.’ It’s something that I know I’m good at. I get bored quickly, and once I master something I like to improve it.”
So how did he wind up on “Hell’s Kitchen”?
A cook working for him suggested he audition for the show, and his wife and daughter urged him to try it as well, considering his temperament and his perfectionist attitude. It was a great experience, Alongi said, and it helped to galvanize his confidence moving forward in his career.
“You step back for a while and you realize how fast the culinary industry changes,” he said. “If you take your eye off the ball or work in a place that’s not as cutting edge, it can blow right past you. It’s extremely exciting and fast-paced.”
The key, for Alongi is staying in front of the curve.
“If you’re not living on the edge, you’re just in the way,” he said. “You have to do that with food. I think, ‘What can I do next that will top this? What can I do to make this better?’”
And, as far as this burger competition is concerned, nobody’s talking recipes or technique. Both chefs said they’re enjoying the build-up to this food truck fight enormously and are pondering what ingredients to use that will make their burgers win. It’s all for a great cause, they said, so they’re hoping to see you there.