The top chefs of Delray were on top of their game at the bubbling Saltwater Brewery in Delray on Wednesday August 26th for the third Feast of the Sea Chef Challenge. The all-star lineup for Semi-Final #3 consisted of Executive Chef Blake Malatesta of 50 Ocean, Executive Chef Kelley Randall from The Office in Delray, Executive Chef Dane, who runs one of South Florida’s exclusive catering companies called Potions in Motions, and Executive Chef Jarod Higgins from CUT 432. They were a handsome looking bunch, dressed in their chef smocks, man buns, beards and with sharpened knives at the ready.

Best t-shirt of the night

The crowd was hipster central too, a much younger, more casual group than I had seen at the other two challenges at Wine Scene and at the Polo Club. My favorite guy there had a t-shirt on that said “In Dog Beers I’ve Only Had One”. The place has a great industrial feel as it sits on the intersection of 95 and Atlantic Ave., plus the Tri-Rail comes barreling and whistling along every few minutes to add to the party.

The Brewery’s patio was a great place for the challenge, with a big shady area, benches, strings of lights, and a welcoming vodka martini cocktail made from a choice of pomegranate, mango, pineapple or other juices. My partner in gastronomic crime, artist Maureen Fulgenzi, was immediately drawn to the amazingly spooky site of the dry ice cloud floating off the table from Potions in Motion. The dry ice emanated from a machine making a tangy key lime citrus sorbet they layered into the bottom of a martini glass and topped with a chilled shrimp and fruit salsa. Cool and refreshing and beautiful to look at, this was a sure fire winner and Maureen later declared it her favorite appetizer from all the restaurants.

Next we hit the 50 Ocean table where Chef Malatesta was chopping up pieces of Spanish octopus tentacles as fast as he could wiggle them out of the bag. Then he braised the octopus and served it with a white bean hummus and tomato chili chutney, topped with lemon basil emulsion and spiced almonds. It was quite the mouthful and ended up being my favorite dish of the night.

Next in line was The Office and Chef Kelley Randall who dished up a smoked fish dip with a surprising mustard sauce drizzled on top, a nice change from the usual creamy base fish dip is usually served with. Down at the Cut 432 table Chef Higgins was serving white fish ceviche with yellow and red peppers and jalapeno in little cups.

After all this food we needed some vino – I’m not a big beer drinker – so we ducked into the cool interior of the Brewery. The bar is big and loud and backs up to the glass enclosed brew tanks. There’s a fish tank, a merchandise area with t-shirts, lounge chairs and a large flat screen TV to watch surf movies and sports. The wine bar had two reds and two whites chilling in a big aluminum tub. In the sweltering heat I opted for a cold Chardonnay and later a nice Pinot Grigio.

Back outside the action was heating up as the secret ingredient was being brought out. Holy Mackerel what will it be this time? The suspense was building as host Danny Bivins announced the secret seafood the chefs had one hour to create a dish from. It was….drumroll please…..whole red snapper! The chefs rushed to the ingredient table sponsored by Whole Foods, gathering up veggies, fruits, oils, orzo and more to start cooking.

The race was on as the chefs got busy filleting the fish and making various sides to serve with it. The other twist was the three different beers they had to pair three different fish dishes with. This was really a challenge as the other competitions didn’t demand this kind of variety in such a quick turnaround. Blades were flying, avocados were mushed, rice was steamed and general mayhem ensued at the makeshift mini-kitchens.

See photos of the Saltwater Brewery Challenge Event…

The judges this time around were Skip Sheffield from Atlantic Ave Magazine, Nicole Grimes of Grimes Events, and Nick Philipsen of Whole Foods, who were seated at a table under an umbrella anxiously awaiting their challenge. After an hour the chefs were ready as they made small spoon tastings of the three variations. The team at Potions got really fun and creative as they made a decoration out of the skinned fish, sticking olives and sprigs of rosemary into his gaping mouth. “Gotta do something with him!” they shrugged. Each dish was served to the judges by the Chef who explained what they were being served, a really complicated process as each dish had like 5 ingredients times 3.

The judges chewed the food slowly and swished the beer, comparing fruity notes, savory tones, spicy sprinkles. They made notes in their little scorecards, peeked at the ones next to them, nodded in agreement and finally came to a decision. The chefs were sweating bullets by this time and gathered around waiting to hear the final tally.

Danny got up to the microphone and announced “We have a winner!!!!! The chef tonight who go on to the final competition in October at the Seafood Festival in downtown West Palm Beach is Chef Blake Malatesta from 50 Ocean!” Everybody cheered for his win, even if we didn’t get to taste what the judges had. He did make my favorite plate – the braised squid that had a lotta soul and suction cups.

His winning trio was:
1. Himalayan salt cured snapper with a cabbage dill remoulade (served with Spiny Tale English ale)
2. Harissa marinated snapper with spiced German potato salad (served with Screamin’ Real Ipa)
3. Snapper ceviche with avocado yuzu and nectarine (serve with Guava Pineapple Ale)

The fun beer names are courtesy of the Saltwater Brewery. So another competition is done. Next up is the last semi-final at Williams Sonoma Grande Cuisine in The Gardens Mall on September 27th.

See you all there, cheers!

Delray Chefs Hop to it at Saltwater Brewery Challenge. Review of the Third Feast of the Sea Chef Challenge at Saltwater Brewery in Delray, August 26th, 2015

Sandra-Schulman Sandra Schulman is an arts writer, music and film producer. Born in Miami, her work has appeared in Billboard, Variety, Rolling Stone, Ocean Drive, Country Music Magazine, The New York Daily News, News From Indian Country, and Entertainment Weekly. She was an entertainment columnist for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel for 8 years. She has authored three books on pop culture. She currently lives in West Palm Beach with her blue eyed whippet. Sandra Schulman’s column appears weekly. Contact her at