Road Foodie

Some people drive simply to arrive.

The D’Artagnan Duckathlon 09

Posted By on May 5, 2009

Imagine my extreme pleasure at receiving an invitation to act as a judge in the super-secret, not-open-to-the-public, chefs-gone-wild event that preceded the serious business of Beard this past weekend.

Mooo-vers and shakers of the NY restaurant-kitchen universe.

Mooo-vers and shakers of the NY restaurant-kitchen universe.

Now in year five, D’Artagnan’s duck-in-cheek challenge pits teams from New York’s finest kitchens—Daniel, Le Cirque, Tribeca Grill, craft, Bar Boulud, to name just a few of the 26 slated to compete (Martha Stewart was supposed to field a team, but no one showed up)—in a series of challenges that range from the sublime to the absurd. (Later, I found out that Les Marthas did, if belatedly, show up.)
Team Bar Boulud is fierce and confident in front of we three (of 20) judges.

Team Bar Boulud is fierce and confident in front of we three (of 20) judges.


In the Sublime department: What Are We Fighting Foie? asked team members to identify which of five samples did NOT contain duck liver (one was turkey mousse). In the area of the Absurd, many choices jostle for attention like free-range chickens: So Long, Saucisson—a favorite on youtube—requires one team member to don a hooped petticoat and a large saucisson, which is attached to his or her belt buckle.
A chef readys for the dunk while his son looks on.

A chef readys for the dunk while his son looks on.


Team members can see underneath the skirt, but the skirt-and-saucisson-wearer can not. The object is to successfully dunk the saucisson inside an antique milk jug as many times as possible. Oh, and a bra must be worn on the exterior.
Celso from one of my favorite teams, China Grill (probably because they flirted with me).

Celso from one of my favorite teams, China Grill (probably because they flirted with me).


Team members are encouraged to bribe, flirt with, buy drinks for, and generally court the judges in any way they can think of, in an attempt to gain as many little plastic ducks as possible. At the end of the contest, teams are rated on a frightening array of qualities, from number of ducks to best outfit or best skit, to points gained at each of the challenges.
This man has eaten way too many macaroons.

This man has eaten way too many macaroons.


At the top of Hotel Gansevoort, where there is a lovely indoor/outdoor bar and swimming pool that must be nice when it is not rainy and grey as it was last Sunday, there is a rather disturbing challenge: It’s a Mad Mac World. This one involves the entire team: One team member pipes filling onto one half of a macaroon, the next sandwiches them together and hands it to a team member wearing boxing gloves, who then attempts to feed it to the final team member, who must eat as many macaroons as possible, all with his/her hands tied behind his back. No one barfed while I was there, but it was touch and go. Beer before and after seemed to help.
Challenge Meat Twister, at Craftsteak.

Challenge Meat Twister, at Craftsteak.


As I followed my map around the rainy city, I was alternately accompanied by various other judges, like Annemarie from Woman’s Day, who was preparing to shoot some video, and Jacqueline Church, of the excellent blog The Leather District Gourmet (www.JacuelineChurch.com). The judges are selected by some mysterious process known only to D’Artagnan, but most of us seemed to be from the world of food media or support. On my own at Craftsteak, I heard perhaps my favorite quote of the day: “Can I move my chorizo hand?” Meat Twister, of course!
Name that mushroom!

Name that mushroom!


Not all the challenges are bawdy, silly, or sophomoric (and what is wrong with any of these categories, I ask you!). Back inside Chelesea Market, where umbrellas needed not be juggled, Fungus Among Us asked team members to pair the correct LATIN name with each mushroom. Many of these were fungi I’d never before encountered, such as blue-foot, and getting the Latin right seemed pretty impossible. Yet many teams did pretty well.
Team Bar Boulud gearing up for the lobster challenge...

Team Bar Boulud gearing up for the lobster challenge...


In the lobster challenge, Just Beclaws, two team members must section and shell a lobster, keeping the pieces as perfect as possible, in the shortest time. Here’s where a movie would tell you that no harm was done to any animals in the filming of this sequence, but since the lobsters were already deceased at this point, my reassurance is this: all lobster meat shelled during this event was cycled into salads or soups at The Lobster Place of Chelsea Market, where the event took place.
Sadly, my camera battery ran out just after I captured the mooo-vers whose images open this post. But I will say this: the award-giving part of the event was appropriately French: somewhat haphazard, wine-soaked, silly, outrageous, and falling-down funny. Judges are allowed to take away ducks for bad behavior as well, and during the skit portion of one team—who will go nameless—Jane Sigal and I (she’s an ex Food and Wine staffer and current contributor) felt moved to withdraw three ducks from their pile for bad foie-gras-related singing. When I left, bodies were being passed along a seated conga line, evidently known as a Paquito. They started out with kids, but quickly progressed to full-sized folk. When I watched Ariane Daguin get passed along the Paquito, I realized that passee form is crucial in this sport: arms at sides, body stiff and legs pressed tightly together. Those that let it all hang loose were far more difficult to pass along. Allow me to never be passed along a Paquito, but I’ll be happy to attend any event these liver-lovin’ folk care to stage.

Vive La France! Vive La Foie!

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One Response to “The D’Artagnan Duckathlon 09”

  1. […] Duckathlon is still a cavalcade of awesomeness. Congrats to Lily & D’Artagnan! Crispy’s Duckathlon archive–I hit last […]

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