Cooking competitions are an increasing highlight of the Bay Area food scene, whether they're battles among professional chefs or contests that encourage home cooks to come out of their kitchens with their most eccentric culinary ideas. February finds contests open to bakers of all skill levels as well as events where the public can simply show up and pig out.
This month's food battles that are open to anyone are both centered around cupcakes. San Francisco's Omnivore Books kicks off its year of cooking contests with cupcakes on February 18. No advance signup is necessary to bake, just arrive a half hour before the 3 p.m. start time with as many miniature cupcakes (or regular cupcakes cut into pieces) as possible. There's no restrictions other than that, and the winner splits the door take from the $5 cover. In this game, creativity as well as flavor will be rewarded.
On February 27, Leland Tea Company hosts its monthly Iron Cupcake SF battle. Each month has a specific theme that competitors must adhere to, and February's is "Aphrodisiac." (Hopefully, organizers don't have oysters in mind.) Prospective bakers should email email@example.com to request participation. Slots for eaters fill up fast and tickets must be purchased online, though they're not yet available for this month; find more information on the Iron Cupcake SF site.
If that all sounds like far too much work, head to the 31st Annual Clam Chowder Cook-Off and Festival on February 25 at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. The deadline to enter has already passed, so your only responsibility would be to eat as much as you can — and maybe to have an open mind about whether Boston or Manhattan style is the best. The annual fundraiser for the City of Santa Cruz Parks and Recreations Department encompasses both amateur and professional categories, so expect to find time-tested offerings as well as wild new takes.
For a nicer, sit-down affair, consider slurping shells at the inaugural Mussel Battle at Grand Cafe on February 29. Grand Cafe chef Alicia Jenish may have the home court advantage against foes-for-the-night Jennifer Puccio (Park Tavern), Ronnie New (Magnolia Brewery), and Adam Thompson (Nettie's Crab Shack), but patrons will be able to sample them all with a glass of wine or beer for $15, with proceeds going to Glide. Tickets are available in advance via Eventbrite.