Ten years ago, Ariane Daguin’s D’Artagnan, a specialty food purveyor that sources from small farmers, launched the Duckathlon, a chefs-only series of challenges that helped educated the leaders of this city’s kitchens about the products they were working with. The idea, says Daguin, was to “give the tools to the chef to have the best ingredient possible on the plate.” And, she adds, “The challenges were pretty hard core.”
As consumers became more savvy about where their food was coming from, though, they’d beg Daguin to participate in the challenges. And so this year, for the first time ever, D’Artagnan will open the Duckathlon up to the public, inviting teams to come participate in the events and learn from chefs and farmers about what’s going on their plates.
“This is what D’Artagnan is about, but it’s also very educational,” says Daguin. “It seemed useful to include consumers who want to be educated on how the farmer influences food and animal husbandry. So we made a couple of changes. We still have some restaurant teams that want to participate, but a lot of chefs are going to come with us to help with the challenges instead of doing the challenges.”
Participants are invited to enter by teams of four (though if you can’t find a team of four, just sign up, and D’Artagnan will pair you with random strangers) who will compete in as many as 27 challenges (if you’d rather just do a couple challenges, and then spend the rest of your time eating, drinking, and observing, that’s totally okay). Some of those challenges are merely intellectual, says Daguin — like explaining what’s particular about the squab in comparison with other poultry. Others are more physical, like taking pieces of a pig and putting it back together, like a puzzle. You’ll have an opportunity to examine Wagyu beef and guess which grade matches which slice, and you can sip several different brands of Armagnac — and determine which specimen in the tasting is not actually Armagnac.
In the middle of the festivities, a star-studded line-up of chefs will demonstrate tricks of the trade, like making a perfect omelet or deboning a bird so you can make a Ballantine, a chicken that’s stuffed, rolled, and sliced. “They’ll also demonstrate goofy stuff,” says Daguin. “Anita [Lo] will show us how to open a beer bottle with tongs.” And there will be some chef-on-chef challenges, too.
Farmers will also lend support and talk about their products, and Daguin says they’re extremely “gung ho” about coming to New York for the competition. “It’s very exciting to put the people responsible for our food with the people who eat it,” she says. “On our small level, we get to raise the awareness of the public about the dedication those farmers have to doing the right thing and putting best possible ingredients on the plate.”
The event also helps Daguin ensure future business success for D’Artagnan, too: “For me as a company, my number one challenge is to make sure we have a consistent supply in terms of both quantity and quality,” she says. “I can’t grow too much with one farmer. For me, it is of the utmost importance to respect the farmer and to pass the message to the consumer. There’s a lot of lip service paid to organic, free-range, and local. Sometimes those words mean something, sometimes not so much. This helps get the consumer closer to the farmer.”
The event will be capped at 125 teams, so if you want to enter, get on it quickly. The Duckathlon takes place on June 14 from noon to 5 p.m. at New York’s Metropolitan Pavilion. For more information, or to enter, head to the Duckathlon’s website.