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Let the Games Begin

Here’s a little tidbit of information about me: I love to win. Well, actually, that’s not entirely true—it’s more that I hate to lose. My family will vouch for me on this one, citing a childhood spent flipping Monopoly boards and getting in fights over games of Uno. Believe me, it’s not something I’m proud of, and as an adult I try to avoid head-to-head competition, lest the evil competitive demon rear her ugly head.

But I was invited to the first ever “Tomato-Off” at my friend’s house this weekend, along with a dozen other folks interested in good eating. The premise was simple: Make a dish of any kind that showcased tomatoes, and make enough for all the guests to have a sample. After sampling all the offerings, a favorite dish would be chosen by each person, and the dish with the most votes would be declared the winner. Early on, I proposed putting myself in charge of the grand prize, but was informed that it was “not that kind of competition.” Oh, OK. Not that kind of competition. I get it.

Anyway, in the weeks leading up to the party, I agonized over what to bring, rejecting a deconstructed gazpacho with barely set tomato jelly and lobster as too fussy, tomato aspic as too retro. For a while I fixated on a tomato tart tatin, imagining caramelized tomatoes with a crust of homemade puff pastry, inspired by Daniel Boulud. In the end though, I ended up making fried green tomatoes, topped with a homemade cayenne aioli (cayennaise, I call it) and a little salad of the tiniest fresh tomatoes. My dish was joined by scores of others, among them some inspired tomato sorbets (one with red tomatoes and mint, the other with golden boy tomatoes and cilantro), a version of panzanella and corn-custard stuffed tomatoes. All very good, but there could only be one winner.

Let’s just say I’m sitting mighty pretty today.