Sometimes taking a risk pays off. At least it did yesterday, when the One Pot Wenches won second place at Saint Arnold's 4th Annual One Pot Showdown with a very unusual ingredient: collard greens.
"We had people giving us so much shit for using collard greens," said team member Allison Dragon, shortly after snagging a $200 check for her team and the crowd's approval for their entry of collard greens, pork and potatoes stewed in Saint Arnold's Lawnmower beer. It was their third time at the competition, and that third time turned out to be a charm.
"We were very surprised," said Nancy Schuster. "We've always been hoping to win."
But for the four One Pot Wenches, the best thing about the dish wasn't the second place award. "People that have never had collard greens or maybe weren't fans got to try them out," said Morgan Tate. "And they liked them!"
Even Brock Wagner, the brewery's founder, admitted that although he doesn't normally like collard greens, he was blown away by the dish in the final round of judging on Sunday afternoon. But as much as the judging panel enjoyed the vegetable-forward dish, it was a dark horse contender that snagged the first place prize this year.
In their very first competition, the Eatsie Boys swept the judging panel with their Land & Sea Stew filled with chorizo, mussels and Lawnmower beer.
"It's a natural pairing in my mind," said team leader Matt Marcus after the awards had been given out. "But we were nervous about people having done it before."
It was an unfounded concern, as I told him that in my three years of judging the competition alongside folks like Wagner, the Houston Chronicle's Ronnie Crocker, Doak Procter and several others, we'd never seen an entry with mussels before -- despite the obviousness of the pairing.
The Eatsie Boys, who run the fairly new food truck of the same name, steamed the mussels in Lawnmower, reserved the liquid while shucking them, then threw the mussels back into the stock along with chorizo, purple potatoes, celery, carrots and fennel. The result was a bright-orange chowder that surprised everyone with its complex yet clean flavors.
"You can really taste a floral note from the Lawnmower," Wagner commented while judging. The rest of us simply gulped it down, one spoonful after another, which we didn't do with any of the other Stryofoam cups filled with samples.
Other surprise entries included the third place entry from the Carnies -- like the One Pot Wenches, another long-competing team -- with sausage-studded, syrup-infused pancakes, and the Soup Ninjas, who steamed bao over their pot and filled them with hoisin-topped pork.
Channel 13 reporter and fellow judge Miya Shay admired the creativity of the bao -- as we all did -- but laughingly said that they were too fat and fluffy to be authentic Chinese bao. "You see these everywhere over here!" she said, before admitting that they were very good anyway.
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This year, the One Pot Showdown raised an incredible amount of canned food and money for Noah's Kitchen, a local non-profit devoted to helping feed the homeless. A total of $3,800 was raised for the charity, which Wagner presented before announcing the final winners that day.
And with 50 teams competing this year -- a huge increase from years past -- there's no telling what the future holds for the One Pot Showdown. Saint Arnold could be on the verge of creating Houston's best and most beloved food competition for years to come.
For additional photos from the competition, check out our slideshow.