Last Friday night, My Table Magazine and the Houston Food & Beverage Managers
Association sponsored the 23rd Annual Caesar Salad Competition. Chefs could compete in either classic and creative Caesar salad divisions with a separate award for presentation. The third “salad” arrived in a conical Dixie cup: a Caesar salad ice cream float with Parmesan-anchovy ice cream and a lettuce soda.

21 salads later, including two Caesar salad ice creams, one Caesar salad sorbet, and one Caesar salad shooter with a broth that looked like it had come straight from the Gulf, I knew that it requires a strong stomach to judge on Top Chef! A lot of “creative” entries merely topped traditional Caesars with everything from raw buffalo slices to veal sweetbreads, but several really deconstructed the Caesar. Ferran Adrià had disciples in Houston whipping up Parmesan foams, drying egg yolks, and finding the essence of anchovy.

Here are the winners (and yep, they were the best of show):
Best Creative Caesar Salad – *17 at the Alden Hotel
Caesar Ice Cream Cone ~ Parmesan-anchovy ice cream with shaved romaine
dressed in lemon vinaigrette, served in garlic crouton cone
Executive Chef Ryan Pera
Savory ice cream that finished clean and made you think of the best raw egg Caesar dressing. Dots of pink sea salt made the tiny cones visually interesting, but come on–they are just so damn cute.

Best Classic Caesar Salad – Bistro Lancaster at the Lancaster Hotel
Executive Chef Jamie Zelko
So I’m a sucker for a microplaned heap of Parmesan, but a grate of lemon zest made this Caesar sing. 21 Casesars chock full of garlic, Parmesan, and anchovy can really deaden a palate. Extra points for super sassy chef Jamie Zelko as she’s just won an up and coming chef of the year award.

Best Presentation – Omni Hotel Westside
Parmesan frico bowls!

Consumer’s Choice – Mockingbird Bistro Wine Bar
Classic Caesar Salad. Chef/owner John Sheely

So an empire wasn’t built on the Caesar salad, but it might be the best souvenir from Tijuana, Mexico you’ll get.

17 Caesar Salad Ice Cream Cones
photo credit Tony Ruppe