The City Paper-sponsored Waffle House Smackdown had to be the best event of the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, and I’m probably only saying that because I was picked to be a judge. But I think the crowds who attended the event would back me up. The situation was hilarious. Of the four chefs, three spent time preparing themselves for the competition by training at Waffle House. And one did not. That unprepared chef would be Edward Lee, who provided ample comic relief.

Michelle Weaver, Edward Lee, and Mike Lata
  • Michelle Weaver, Edward Lee, and Mike Lata

The smackdown pitted two chefs against each other in two heats, followed by the ultimate smackdown and the anointing of the winner as ultimate Master Blaster. Andrew Knowlton of Bon Appétit gamely oversaw the proceedings, asking trivia questions and calling the play-by-play.

First up were Michelle Weaver of Charleston Grill and Ashley Christensen of Poole’s Diner in Raleigh. These two gals were definitely prepared and the competition was stiff. A Waffle House waitress called out their orders in short order lingo and the hashbrowns started dropping.

Serious judging going on here
  • Serious judging going on here

The judging table was made up of three red-shirted Waffle House master blasters and me, whose only qualification is that I’ve been eating two eggs over easy with bacon and hashbrowns (scattered, smothered, covered) at Waffle House (post 2 a.m.) for as long as I’ve been drinking heavily.

Ashley impressed the judges with her Waffle House way, while Michelle seemed to have finally mastered the art of the omelet. But in the end, and after a mathematical meltdown, Michelle won the heat and moved on to the finals.

Then came Ed Lee (610 Magnolia in Louisville) and Mike Lata (FIG and the Ordinary), who had been sequestered during the previous round. As the orders were called out, Ed realized the error of not being trained and adapted to the situation by copying Lata. Barbs flew including a slightly racist Asian penis joke, which — of course — brought the house down.

Lata handily won, and the red shirts were impressed with the fluffiness of his omelet. As for Ed, only two judges dared taste his concoction of hashbrowns with jalapeños and jelly while the other two abstained, especially after he ladled on some more of that greasy butter-oil.

For the final competition, I finally got me some bacon, eggs, and waffles. The other judges were way serious about judging the food while I was way serious about eating some breakfast. It was good too.

In the end, Michelle burned her bacon, Mike won the Golden Waffle, and the crowds left happy and full of grits and coffee.


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