Local chefs will battle for bragging rights and a 6-foot trophy

Wild Goose Creative is gearing up to answer life's most savory question: Whose cuisine reigns supreme?

On Saturday, Dec. 9, two local chefs will face off at the community arts organization in an “Iron Chef”-style competition slightly modified for scale.

“We have a minimalist kitchen,” executive director Justin Johnston explained during a late-November interview at the space. “So we thought we'll do a ‘Hot Plate Iron Chef.'”

Using only a hot plate, each cook will have 20 minutes to prepare an appetizer, 30 minutes to prepare an entree and 10 minutes in between to wash equipment using a set of blue buckets marked “Rinse, Wash and Sanitize.”

The event was created by Johnston and community leader Liz Martin in celebration of Wild Goose's 10th anniversary. Judges include Todd Mills of Acre, Bethia Woolf of Columbus Food Adventures and Alive contributor Nick Dekker of Breakfast with Nick, among others. Bryant Miller of Columbus SOUP will handle hosting duties, and all proceeds (VIP attendees will get to sample the dishes) will benefit Wild Goose.

In addition to bragging rights, the winner of the competition will take home an impressive, 6-foot trophy (the current plaque, dedicated to the “Top PT Cruiser” in the Classic Auto Show & Cruise-In will be updated).

So who are the two competitors? The first challenger is Chef Dan Kraus, who co-owns Baba's restaurant in North Campus with his wife, Caroline. Previously, Kraus made a name for himself in the Columbus food industry with That Food Truck. After a series of setbacks, the duo opened Baba's in November 2016. Kraus said he is happy with the restaurant's progress.

The second challenger is Chef Will Johnston (no relation to Justin), a cook at health-care software company Cover My Meds. Though perhaps not as well-known as Kraus, Will has a job that is just as demanding; he and his team serve over 450 people daily. And that number easily rises to 600 when pretzel chicken is on the menu.

“We have a suggestion box for the entire company [for] very important suggestions about how we get people medicine,” Will said. “But then 40 percent of the suggestions are like, ‘We should have pretzel chicken again.' ... It's really taken on a mythos that's bigger than the chicken itself.”

Though pretzel chicken is a returning dish, Will and his colleagues create a new menu each day.

“I hope that gives me a little bit of an edge,” said Will, who thinks he should at least have the dish-cleaning round in the bag. “I'm slow to be promoted, so I have an unfair advantage because I've spent more time in the dish pit.”

Will also joked that Kraus has the “home-team advantage,” given that Baba's is just down the street from Wild Goose.

A true advantage for Kraus will be his experience competing in similar competitions. And he said that, because he's been cooking for about 20 years, he isn't worried about the time limit.

“We work under time constraints every single day,” he said.

Will, on the other hand, is a little apprehensive. “A couple years ago I probably would've said [I wasn't],” he said. “I've been in my cushy corporate job for a while.”

Both men have used hot plates before, albeit for different reasons. They keep Kraus' soups warm at Baba's. And they came in handy for Will when he was in college.

“They make great ramen,” Will said.

For “Hot Plate Iron Chef,” they will have access to a pantry of basic ingredients, but each cook will be permitted to bring five ingredients of his choice.

“I'm bringing five Wagyu filets,” Will quipped, referring to the expensive Japanese steak. He's more likely to bring something to enhance his visual presentation. “It could be some soy lecithin for a little foam. It's always a crowd favorite.”

“There's some weird things that I want to bring,” Kraus said. “I'm all about internal organ meats. … In my slaughterhouse that I go to once a week, they usually save that stuff for me.”

The chefs will also have to work with a secret ingredient, which Justin Johnston and Martin hinted is a “seasonal, main ingredient.”

“It's salt,” Will said in jest. “Please let it be salt.”