Jen's Garden's TR McCrystal takes home top Iron Chef honors

Took the Heat, Stayed in the Kitchen: Jen’s Garden’s TR McCrystal takes home top Iron Chef honors

by Mike Bookey   

TR McCrystal isn’t the type of chef who would ever end up on Top Chef or Hell’s Kitchen. He’s hardly a self-promoter, he doesn’t care much for competition, and his personality isn’t at all in step with the macho, egomaniacal persona that makes for high television ratings.

But that didn’t keep McCrystal, the head chef and co-owner of Jen’s Garden, from taking home top honors at the Bargreen Ellingson Iron Chef Competition, held over two days during last weekend’s Bite of Bend.

“I’m not a very competitive person, I’m not really the type who enjoys this sort of thing,” McCrystal said, while admitting the win did help boost the enjoyment factor. The competition began with eight local restaurateurs facing off onstage, working against the clock to produce a dish that would not only show off their culinary prowess, but also please the knowledgeable pallet of the contests’ judges. By Sunday, the field was narrowed down to just four restaurants: Jen’s Garden, Marz Bistro, Broken Top Restaurant, and Stacatto at the Firehall.

The final round on Sunday afternoon pitted McCrystal against Stacatto’s Paul Spadora, with McCrystal and his sous chef, Caryl Hosler (the only woman, sous chef or otherwise, featured in the competition) emerging victorious, by more or less cooking the way they would at the restaurant. The duck confit, served with a Yukon gold and carrot hash brown that McCrystal served up as his championship dish on the Iron Chef stage wasn’t far from the items found on Jen’s Garden menu.

As if the stresses of the competition weren’t enough, McCrystal and Hosler were also dealing with the strain of returning to Sisters in time to prepare for the dinner service at Jen’s Garden.

“When we made it to Sunday, we thought that if we were going to be there – and be late to the restaurant – we better win this,” McCrystal said.

Maybe he’s a shade more competitive than he projects after all.

In addition to providing further credibility to the Southern French-themed Jen’s Garden, which was named the Restaurant of the Year in the Source Weekly’s 2007 Dining Guide, the victory also gave McCrystal the chance to represent Bend’s fraternity of chefs in August at the Bite of Oregon in Portland.

While he and Hosler are proud of their Bite of Bend victory, McCrystal said that it’s not certain whether they’ll be able to make the trip.

“We’re a small family-run restaurant and it’s really a challenge to do something like this. It would mean shutting down the place on a weekend in August,” McCrystal said. “But it would be fun and competition is a lot stiffer. It would be like playing Little League then stepping right up into the majors.

With a small staff that includes McCrystal’s wife, Jen, who serves as the pastry chef and co-owner, taking a weekend off during the busy summer season isn’t the wisest business move.

While McCrystal may not take the stage at the Bite of Oregon, or any other competition any time soon, he’s still in the business of contending for the affection of his customers’ taste buds. And if you’re waiting to see TR McCrystal on a cooking reality show, I wouldn’t count on it – unless there’s a network currently casting for the first season of Nice Guy Chef.

Owing to an excessive dousing of food, drink and sunshine, even event organizers were unclear as to exactly what dishes were served by our local “celebrity” chefs during the Bite’s 3rd annual Iron Chef Competition.

Instead, here’s a random sampling of ingredients.

We recommend that you place them in a food processor with a quart of olive oil, mince well and bake for 45 minutes before serving with a sprig of fresh parsley:

Green Beans
Shitake Mushrooms
Ginger Root
Vegetable Stock
Basmati Rice
Beef Tenderloin
Heavy Cream
Soy Sauce

Happy Cooking!