Life

Three Food Writers Battle To Build The Best Plate Of Super Bowl Nachos


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Last month was interesting, right? Everyone nailed their dishes and you — our beloved fans — gushed. At the end of the day, we slapped one another on the butts and moved on. No one tweeted to me about my terrible ingredient choices, wrote microfiction about Vince, or riffed on Zach’s love for sous vide in comments for a random post. There were few burns to be had; three great chilis led to no heat.

Sure, sure, it was cool to see three people cook well all at once, but it certainly wasn’t the most thrilling entry in the series.

Screeeeeew that. What joy is there, without mistakes for you to tease? What fun is cooking well if a fellow chef isn’t getting shredded? This is cooking battle, not cooking friends. The burns are half the fun. Maybe all the fun, for those of you who can’t actually taste what we prepare.

Well good news, pals: It’s February and the lovefest is officially over. We all got a little weird on this one. We swung for the fences. We made mistakes. We teased one another’s techniques, ingredients, and distant relatives. We piled it on — both with our dishes (none of us made “minimalist nachos”) and with the criticism.

No more talk, it’s game time! Tear into us, then tear into these three Super Bowl nachos!

— Steve Bramucci, Managing Editor, Uproxx Life

PAST RESULTS:

BLT Showdown — 1) Vince 2) Zach 3) Steve
Mac & Cheese Showdown — 1) Vince 2) (tie) Zach, Steve
Taco Showdown — 1) Steve 2) Zach 3) Vince
Winter Stew Showdown — 1) Zach 2) Steve 3) Vince
Date Night Showdown — 1) Zach 2) Vince 3) Steve
Pasta Showdown — 1) Steve 2) Zach 3) Vince
Hot Beef Showdown — 1) Zach 2) Vince 3) Steve
Shellfish Showdown — 1) Vince 2) Zach 3) Steve
BBQ Showdown — 1) Steve 2) Zach 3) Vince
Pumpkin Spice Showdown — 1) (tie) Vince, Zach 2) Steve
Thanksgiving Side Dish Showdown — 1) Vince 2) Steve 3) Zach
Christmas Dessert Showdown — 1) Steve 2) Vince 3) Zach
Chili Cook-off Showdown — 1) Zach 2) Steve 3) Vince

CURRENT SCORE:

We’re giving three points to the winner and one to second place for each round. As it stands, the score is:

ZACH: 21
VINCE: 18
STEVE: 17

STEVE’S MODIFIED “NACHO BELL GRANDE”

Once upon a time, there was a high school senior named Steve Bramucci. He dyed his hair bottle blond, wore a puka shell necklace, and shopped at J.Crew. He owned a cherry red Honda Prelude and spent money in all of the ways a 17-year-old might consider “lavish.”

To afford this lifestyle, Steve imported fake Oakley sunglasses from Mexico to Portland (OR) and sold them as real to high school freshman throughout the city. In 1997, this was a very profitable racket. Besides the bucketloads of money, Steve finally felt cool. He scoured his Italian family tree to find someone connected to La Cosa Nostra, he quoted Scarface and hung out at Zumiez, if anyone questioned where the glasses came from he said they “fell off a truck” in order to play coy (though, in retrospect, the fact that a high schooler had figured out a way to ship massive boxes of copyright-infringing sunglasses into the U.S. would have been a much better story).

During this time, Steve went to a lot of parties. And at these parties, when he got hungry, he and some friends would inevitably run to Taco Bell. It is impossible to exaggerate just how hard Taco Bell crushed it in the 90s. Then Steve, always longing to seem impressive, would buy a two dozen Nacho Bell Grandes for the whole gang to enjoy. Envision the sort of kid who would think that was the ultimate baller gesture and you will understand our author like never before.

* * *

So much has changed in the interceding years. But damn if I’m not still in love with Nachos Bell Grande. Here’s my riff:

Stephen Bramucci

Meat:

Vince teases my “meat slurries” but there are few things I cook that I’m so proud of. Ground beef lends itself to mangable bites, is easy to scoop, and holds flavor like nobody’s business.

For this play on T-Bell, I used one pound of 80/20 ground beef and a half pound of pork. I laid that down on a base of de-seeded New Mexico chilies, garlic, onions, and fresh poblanos. For some reason, I have slowly grown to loathe bell peppers, but I absolutely love poblanos.

Stephen Bramucci

After searing the meat, I add spices:

  • 1 can of storebought enchilada sauce.
  • 1 packet of storebought taco powder.
  • Two shakes of cumin.
  • Two shakes of fish sauce.
  • A pinch of MSG.
  • Salt and pepper.

We don’t have to go much further before I call out the fact that this is the most I’ve ever used pre-packaged ingredients. Guilty as charged. It’s nachos, baby, the rules are dead.

Stephen Bramucci

Salsa: I am pretty in love with Taco Bell’s salsa. So much so that I actually put it on my “20 Hot Sauces You Should Own” list. But in the end, I decided to serve a legit salsa — something bright and fresh enough to even out the richness of the pork and cheese.

This is wildly simple and dead solid perfect:

  • Cherry tomatoes (for the sweetness).
  • Raw garlic.
  • Raw onions.
  • Cilantro.
  • Salt and pepper.
  • One fresh red pepper (with seeds).
  • One dried red pepper (half de-seeded).

I blended it but left it at the rough chop stage. Salt and pepper to taste.

Stephen Bramucci

Nacho cheese: Nachos can be made with melted cheese or “nacho cheese” but the Nacho Bell Grande is all about the latter. I actually love that processed cheese taste, but in an attempt to slough off some of the many pounds I’ve gained since taking this gig, I decided to go natural.

To make my sauce, I used:

  • Milk.
  • All natural orange cheddar powder (it’s really just dried milk cultures and whey, colored with turmeric).
  • All natural white cheese powder (essentially the same but sharper).
  • Tillamook 18 month aged white cheddar.
  • Butter.

As the sauce started to melt and take on the artificial look, I added a new hot sauce that I’m in love with. It’s called Pico Pica, it’s insanely cheap, and it’s a much closer version of Taco Bell’s fire sauce that their own storebought brand.

Stephen Bramucci

Chips: So little talk of chips in this competition! Vince and Zach’s chips look close to collapse. Mine are thick and hard (make jokes as you see fit).

The recipe is simple:

  • Semi-dry yellow corn tortillas (I didn’t have time to leave them out for a day, so I tossed them in the oven for an hour on 200-degrees).
  • Fry in an 90/10 mix of expeller-pressed corn oil and beef marrow.
  • Salt to taste.

Is there any way to amp up a nacho better than fresh chips with miles of crunch? I doubt it.

Stephen Bramucci

Look at these while you’re reading my competition’s weak justifications for why they didn’t make chips.

Stephen Bramucci

Assembly: Okay, friends. Let’s take some risks. During the same span of high school mentioned above, I took a girl to a fancy new restaurant called TGIFridays. Ever heard of it?

Back then, they had a nacho on the menu where each chip came individually dressed. It was the ultimate 90s version of cheffing up a comfort food, filtered through a chain restaurant. I loved it. No more digging like a maniac and feeling weird when your chip breaks. No more eyeing the person across the table who always seems to snatch up the cheesiest chips.

Each chip is a mini meal unto itself. It’s brilliant.

This means my next step was adding meat and cheese, one chip at a time.

Stephen Bramucci

Avocado Crema: Have we not gone far enough? Are you not entertained? Here’s another “Steveish” call: Adding upscale avo to my lowbrow nacho. I did it because I like it; that is all. It’s unctuous and rich. And smoother than Santana.

  • Roasted bone marrow (I only used 1.5 of the three pictured).
  • Organic avocados.
  • Oaxacan sour cream.

I blended those three together within an inch of their lives. The combo is perfect and the texture is divine. It’s like flavored silk.

Stephen Bramucci

While the crema was in the blender, I broiled my nacho for three minutes, then topped the chips with diced organic cherry tomatoes.

Stephen Bramucci

Finally, I dolloped my cream into a ziplock, cut one end, and piped it onto my chips. Top with chives and cilantro (except on Verbal’s) and we’re ready to go, salsa on the side.

Stephen Bramucci

The flavor was staggeringly good. You had the meat and cheese flavors that are so recognizable, paired with this insanely over the top crema. The salsa and herbs kept things bright. I watched Mad Men with my lady and tore through these in record time. That was our Super Bowl: Comforting, precisely portioned, classic and yet semi-upscale.

It’s the sort of nacho that someone cooks for you when they desperately long for cool-foodie cred, but also like fast food flavors. Which is, essentially, my whole deal. Now… anyone want to buy a pair of Oakleys?

Stephen Bramucci

Vince on Steve’s Nachos:

Oh, Steve. That’s the only way to start this, by the way, “Oh, Steve.” This is so full of pathos, even more than usual. Not even finishing ahead of me twice in a row in the last two challenges (inexplicably, I might add) can cure you of your pre-defensiveness. Now you’re like the underclassman who flinches every time me and Zach walk by.

Contrary to your assumptions, I won’t rip on you too much for your ground meat. I bet it’s probably pretty good, even if it does look like something my dog might hack up after he’s spent all day licking his own asshole. Ground meat is true to the style you’ve chosen, which is… well… I don’t know, it’s something. I mean, you’re good at doing you. We even had similar thoughts on cheese sauce. And I appreciate the decision to fry your own chips. However… did you have some illegal Oakleys on when you fried those? Because I may be colorblind, but I can see well enough to tell you this: those chips are overcooked.

Then you went and did that thing I hate when people do. You took ingredients known for their perfect texture (that is, avocados and bone marrow) and wasted them in a puree. Avocados and bone marrow are perfect textures. That beautiful, buttery avocado with just a little give when you bite into it. That custardy bone marrow that melts in your mouth. They’re perfect just the way they are. There’s no way your avocado bone marrow crema is going to be that much of a flavor improvement over regular crema to justify destroying those textures by sticking them a piping bag. You wouldn’t do that with other ingredients. “You know what I love? Ribeye steak. That’s why I put it in a blender with some craime fraiche for this delicious ribeye steak toothpaste. Yummm. And if you think that’s great, check out my special lobster hummus.”

That being said, I respect the craft of dressing each chip individually and the chives were a nice touch, even though I’m 95% sure those are green onions.

Zach on Steve’s Nachos:

I’d be remiss not to mention that my tacos were completely banished because of ground meat. Just sayin’. Not bitter, at all.

This somehow feels high concept and safe at the same time. I love the individual chips and strongly considered doing that myself. I have an aversion to powdered cheese that makes me run the opposite direction — unless I’m high and near a 7-Eleven, then bring it on. In this dish, I don’t know. I feel like Vince had the common decency to use actual cheese in his sauce. Then there’s the combo of ground meat, packaged spices, AND powdered cheese. That all screams, “SAFE!” And, yeah, you put some bone marrow in an avocado crema. Nice. But it does seem like the poorest use of the marrow. In fact, let me Monday morning quarterback this one and say that these might have been transcendent with the marrow as the star of the show while losing the ground meat entirely … and the package spice mixes … and the fake cheese.

Oh, and, yeah, those chips are overdone. Steve, were you dreaming of DQ chimichangas again when you were frying?

VINCE’S CARNITAS PICOCADO NACHOS

I’ve had a long and tumultuous love affair with nachos. One time my girlfriend asked me if I was cool in high school. “Not for the first few years,” I said.

“Why not?” she asked.

“Because I had huge braces and nacho cheese on my shirt.”

“Why did you have nacho cheese on your shirt?” she asked, at which point I looked at her like she was a small child who didn’t understand anything.

“Uh, because I really liked nachos?” I mean… duh.

Anyway, those were mostly of the smooth-cheese-from-a-dispenser variety (loaded up with copious jarred jalapeño rings), which I would eat roughly every day, usually spilling some on myself then getting roasted in whatever class I had after lunch. I used those for inspiration, adding my favorite must-have bar nacho additions — meat, pico de gallo, avocado.

The Meat

Vince Mancini

Shredded pork or beef is my favorite, but shredded meats are hard to get onto a single bit of a chip without breaking your chips off. And let’s face it, nothing is sadder than breaking a chip, spilling your toppings, and looking to the heavens to curse God. My innovation here was to make pork carnitas (because it’s delicious), but to cut it into carne asada-like chunks rather than shredding for easy chip assemblage.

The classic method of making carnitas (as far as I’ve seen) is to cook it low and slow in pork fat until it gets nice and tender (basically a confit) and then fry it in some hot fat at the very end to make it crispy on the outside and give it that Maillard reaction. Ideally, you end up with meat that’s crunchy and tender. So, that’s what I did.

First, I cut my pork butt into three or four big cubes and seasoned with salt. Putting pork into plain oil for three hours without adding some flavor seemed like a waste, so while my salt was sinking into the meat, I heated up the lard and then flavored the oil, steeping it with: a whole head of garlic, three bay leaves, a guajillo and a California chili (deseeded), plus a pinch of salt.

Vince Mancini

You can actually see the color leech out of the chiles and into the oil — pretty cool anytime you can actually see flavor. I let that go for a bit, taking everything out before it starts burning so it doesn’t add any bitter, burnt flavors. Also, now I have a bunch of perfectly softened, mild and nutty garlic cloves I can use for other stuff.

I let the meat cook in the flavored oil at about 180 degrees for three hours.

Vince Mancini

The Pico De Gallo

Vince Mancini

There are many salsas, but fresh pico is the one I always come back to for chips. It’s pretty simple, and I’ve posted my recipe here before. This is basically that, except I used clamshell tomatoes (because it’s winter) and all lime juice with no vinegar (because I had nice fresh limes). My only non-tradish tweak is I like to toast and seed my chilis instead of leaving them raw because it reduces the chances of me spewing molten lava from my sad puckered asshole the next morning.

I also added like five of those softened garlic cloves (I added more after I took this picture because it felt right).

6 campari tomatoes
2 serrano chiles (toasted until speckled with char, peeled, and seeded)
1/4th white onion, chopped, soaked in water, then strained
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
5 soft garlic cloves, smooshed

The Cheese Sauce

Vince Mancini

Those shredded cheese nachos you get with cheese baked on under the salamander at bars are decent, provided you eat them in the four and a half minutes before they harden into spackling paste, but for my money, it’s all about the smooth liquid cheese sauce. Of course, I didn’t want to use Velveeta either, so I made what Zach would call a “mornay” sauce (let’s call it queso, or nacho cheese). Butter and flour in a pot until it’s a nice roux, then milk until it thickens into bechamel, then cheese until it becomes nacho cheese. This seemed like another golden opportunity to add flavor, so I added some Peruvian yellow pepper paste I bought to make papas a la huancaina. I love that stuff. It’s kind of like a less-hot habanero and goes perfectly with cheese.

2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 1/4 cup whole milk
1 tbsp dehydrated milk powder (for creaminess)
Handful each of, shredded 12-month Manchego, and some other Spanish cow cheese that looked and tasted kind of like jack (I love buying from the cheese ends pile)
2 tbsp aji Amarillo paste

Vince Mancini

Pickled Serranos and Jalapeños

More or less self-explanatory. I cut some pepper rings and pickled them.

Meat Part 2

Vince Mancini

Once the meat is done simmering, I take it out (it’s already pretty good). I cut that into smaller cubes (small enough to get some all-over browning but big enough that they don’t completely fall apart and I can still pick them out of the oil with tongs), and heat the oil from 180 to around 300 (trying not to burn myself or my whole apartment down). I put the meat back in and let it fry until it gets nice and golden brown on the outside. Then I cut that into smaller cubes. My God, it’s so good. Not much beats tender, fat-softened pork cubes browned on the outside.

Vince Mancini

Assemblage

At this point, I suppose I could’ve made my own chips, but my local grocery store fries their own corn chips and sells them in big bags. Made from regular corn tortillas, they’re thicker than my favorite chips-and-salsa chips, but perfect for standing up to nachos. My process goes roughly like this:

  • Strain Pico and pickled peppers (water is your enemy)
  • Cut avocado into chunks, lightly salt (I prefer avocado chunks to guac. I like the texture better, plus it adds less liquid, and I’ve already got enough tomato with the pico)
  • Make a bed of chips with a well in the middle (for the pico)
  • Ladle the cheese sauce over it, trying to get the chips evenly covered but not drenched and soggy
  • Add pico to the well in the middle.
  • Sprinkle with the pickled peppers
Vince Mancini

It’s already pretty good at this point. Not enough cheese to sog my chips, but just enough to gloop on carnitas and chiles. Then I add the avocado chunks. And then the carnitas.

Vince Mancini

Now, I know me and nachos have history, but in all honesty, this might be the best thing I’ve made in one of these competitions. I took my first bite and my knees buckled. Spicy cheese sauce, smooth avocados, tender pork, tangy pico, and hot pickled peppers to cut the richness. It’s so insanely comforting (but also hot enough to make it interesting). I could eat this every day and die happy (and young, probably).

Zach on Vince’s Nachos:

This is tough. I can’t really find much fault here at all. And only a fool would turn down that pork.

If I’m being picky, I guess, why not drizzle some more of that cheese over the meat for the final presentation? I love that you put the cheese on the bottom layer, but I want more up top. Make it messy! Just to be a bit of a Padma, why not use corn starch or corn flour instead of wheat flour to lighten your cheese sauce?

Seems like a near miss. I know that’s super nitpicky, but I’m trying here. Besides the assembly of the finished dish being back to front, I would eat this all day.

Steve on Vince’s Nachos:

Obviously, that meat is perfection. Last time I got to see some fatty flesh that luscious looking was on a visit to the old Mancini homestead in Central California. But bruh: you have a vessel problem.

You keep making this awesome meat that just begs to join a burrito. It’s like a burnt-out surfer in the 70s trying to resist the allure of a cult. It’s so glaring that I feel like I’m watching the “failure” montage from a doc on The Mancini Burrito — Its Origins And Stumbling Blocks.

This plate is a culinary game of Jenga. So the cheese is laying on the chip, making it all soft and floppy, right? And I’m meant to use that struggle chip to scoop up avo chunks and meat bits? Real talk: How many minutes into eating this were you looking at the fridge wondering if you could grab a tortilla? How many chips had to die for one scoop of pico?

I like your nacholosophy (classic, processed, fatty), but, like so many times in this friendship, you’ve made it tough for me to fully appreciate your perfect meat.

ZACH’S BLUE CORN AND BISON NACHOS

Zach Johnston

Half of me wanted to take the easy road and do a repeat of my best nacho recipe from back in November. The other half wanted to throw down with something new, indigenous, and elevated to continue down my current path of cultural re-discovery. The half of me keen to throw off the shackles of colonialism — especially in food — won out because, hey, it’s 2018 and it’s time to start living in a world where anything’s possible.

The recipe I chose takes the base elements of the nacho and asks how would it have been adapted, or even conceived if we were in the Black Hills of South Dakota instead of Piedras Negras, Mexico. All the elements are here: Corn chips, red meat protein, melty cheese, avocado, and a pico to dress and spice things up. What I’ve done is taken these elements and found a new application with varied ingredients that may have made sense on the plains… had the indigenous population been able to embrace these foodways instead of being stuck with fry bread.

The Garnish

Zach Johnston

I figure two toppings are good here. After all, you don’t want to overwhelm the cheese, meat, and chips with too much. Nacho garnishes need to accent, not drown.

The first topping is a foresty version of a pico de gallo. Pico’s elements are very straightforward: Fruit, onion, aromatic, citrus, salt. That’s it. Yet, there is so little variation on that theme. You’re either going to see a tomato and chili-based pico or a mango and chili based pico. Other than that, the massive array of fruits that will make a great pico seem to be completely ignored. So, I’m going with a huckleberry pico. Since I can’t get huckleberries in Berlin, I have to settle for the huckleberry’s sibling, the blueberry.

For the blueberry pico, I first deseed and finely mince a serrano chili. Next, I finely dice half a red onion. Then I take some sage leaves and fry them in some olive oil until they’re bloomed and crispy. I set those on some towels to leach out the oil and cool. While that’s happening I sort through about a cup of blueberries and halve them. I then combine the serrano, onion, chopped sage, and blueberries in a small mixing bowl with a good hit of sea salt and a small squeeze of lime. And, holy shit! This pico is a revelation.

Zach Johnston

The pop of the blueberries adds a whole new dimension to what you think pico can be. They’re also slightly tart at times and still a little fruity sweet which also adds a great layering to the pico. The bloomed sage takes it to a whole nother level. It adds a fragrant earthiness and almost smokiness to the salsa. This may be my new favorite garnish for everything.

It’s spicy, tart, earthy, sweet, savory, and it pops! Hello, sensory delights!

To complement that, I whip up an avocado crema. This is there to bring up the fat factor a bit but also add the colorful pop to a very blue dish. The crema is pretty straightforward. Put three avocados, a tablespoon of minced red onion, a crushed clove of garlic, sea salt, and about 1/2 cup of creme fraiche into a blender and blend until a super creamy and smooth crema is formed.

I put that into a squeeze bottle and set in the fridge with the pico to rest and let the flavors blend while I get everything else ready. Always allow time for these types of things to rest.

Zach Johnston

The Meat

Zach Johnston

When I think of nachos, I usually reflect back on dried out white chicken or chewy hunks of steak. For me, it’s almost worth getting nachos without a meat topping because it’s never revelatory. Mostly, this is because chefs don’t want to take the time to add a great piece of melt-in-your-mouth meat to a plate of nachos. That’s a shame. Because fatty, super tender meat is always the way to go with nachos.

Using bison is my new favorite everything. It’s such a clean and sweet tasting meat with a lush fattiness that wins me over every single time. I tempted fates here and went for the fattiest of cuts, the ribeye. I chose a beautiful 10 ounce, one-inch thick cut from the butcher. Since this recipe is for two to share, that makes about five ounces of meat per person.

For this recipe, I generously season the steak with smoked paprika and garlic salt on both sides. I then sear this baby off in a large dollop of butter (I would have used Bison butter if I could find it) with a cedar sprig and fresh sage. Once the aromatics bloom in the butter, I set them on the steak and baste the butter over them while the steak cooks. The cedar and the sage give the meat a wonderful dank forest aroma and flavor that pops with the cleanness of the bison.

Zach Johnston

I go for an internal temp of about 120F — so inching away from rare towards medium rare. I purposefully cook the steak under where I want it as it’ll cook more in the oven as the cheese melts.

From there, I let the steak rest for about five to seven minutes while it continues to rise in temperature to about 125F-128F. Then I slice the steak thinly across the grain and make one-inch slices from there. In the end, there should be about 25-30 pieces of super delicious ribeye.

Zach Johnston

The Build

Zach Johnston

I imported some blue corn tortilla chips. There’s an earthier dimension to the blue corn chips that I like (plus, they’re higher in protein). They always feel a little heftier, which suits making good nachos. Blue corn is the invention of the Hopi down in the southwestern US. There’s also a directional component to the use of corn and its coloring. The Southwest was always repped by blue corn. Whereas the Northwest was repped by yellow corn, Southeast by red corn, and the Northeast by white corn, the sky by black corn, and below the earth by motley corn. Since this is an inherently Southwestern dish, blue is the way to go.

For the cheese element, I looked to Bison milk cheese from Spain. It has a seriously earthy funk to it. It’s also medium hard, nearing a sharp cheddar consistency. So it’ll melt nicely and form that all-important crunchy cheese crust around the edges and the bottom.

I start with a good, well-seasoned pie tray. How much better does it feel when you get food in a dish that’s obviously seen 1,000 firings? You know that pan is putting out some awesome flavors thanks to all that seasoning over the years.

Zach Johnston

Friends, I loathe a haphazard nacho build. You have to layer that shit or really think about where the meat and cheese are going in relation to the chips. I start layering my nachos in a circular pattern with one chip, one piece of steak, and a pinch of cheese. I continue this assembly in a circular fashion until the pie pan is filled in. I add another layer of chips around the circumference of the pan and finish off the nachos with the rest of the bison milk cheese.

This accomplishes something wonderful — every chip has a mouth-watering piece of meat on it. There’s no haphazard doubling up and there are no blank spots on the nachos where there isn’t amazing steak.

The Finish

Zach Johnston


I preheated the oven to about 425F. I want to melt the cheese quickly without over-cooking the beautiful steak morsels within. Depending where you are elevation-wise, this shouldn’t take more than ten minutes. The cheese should be nicely melted and just starting to crisp on the edges.

When my nacho is finished baking, I take out the pan and let it sit for three or so minutes. Next, I sprinkle the blueberry pico all over the plate and finish by applying the avocado crema. I know, I’ve given Bramucci shit for putting a great piece of steak in a sandwich and I know I’ve given Mancini shit for doubling up with dairy fats and fruit fats. And I’m doing all those things here. But, nachos are comfort food. So bring in all the fat on a fat. As for the steak, well, once you have a luscious piece of bison ribeye on a nacho, you’ll never go back to those sad pieces of chicken or dried out hunks of beef.

Thanks to the construction, every chip has a super tender piece of steak, melty cheese, pico, and crema. You’re never left wanting more or going back because you reached in your nachos and only got a handful of chips. That’s a win.

The taste is just outstanding. The sage and blueberry pico literally pops and accents the cedar and sage bison perfectly. The cheese adds a nice earthy funk. And the avocado smoothes the whole thing out nicely. This dish is the literal embodiment of how good nachos can be with a little finesse and re-thinking.

In the end, it’s a testament to indigenous cuisine. The chips represent the Hopi and the border regions where this dish was invented. The bison meat and cheese represents the plains — where chef Sean Sherman is inspiring all of us to look back at our pre-colonial past. The pico is a little bit of home. As a native species, huckleberries and blueberries are a cornerstone of Pacific Northwest cookery. The avocado, well, that’s a nod to one of the best indigenous food centers in the Americas: Puebla, Mexico (where the avocado comes from).

Zach Johnston

Vince on Zach’s Nachos:

This looks great and probably gets the most points for creativity, not to mention the valuable history lessons throughout. And as creative as it is, it doesn’t feel like you just Bramucci’d a bunch of exotic things together with no rhyme or reason like a 12-year-old with ADHD. Bison, blue corn, blueberry, crema, cheese — those things sound complimentary. I can dig it.

That said, it feels like a dish I appreciate as a change of pace but probably don’t order. It’s alluring, but kind of intimidating. Probably not the nachos I’d take home to Steve’s mom. It looks tasty and it’s smartly conceived, it’s just… I don’t know, when I think nachos, I think bright. This is so dark. It’s like winter nachos. Goth nachos. Nine Inch Nachos. These aren’t Super Bowl nachos. These are the kind of nachos that say “sportsball” and talk shit about you when you leave the room. They somehow look both delicious and yet not that inviting.

Steve on Zach’s Nachos:

Zach, I certainly can’t fault you for a paucity of imagination. And going back to Indigenous cuisine is wise — in fact, I worry you’re going to finally pull away now that you’ve unlocked that. The history you share is vital, too. Plus it’s a damn tasty-seeming dish that ultimately makes sense. Screw you for an introduction of berries that seems way cooler than mine.

But maybe that coolness is the success and the failure of this dish in one: It’s Judd Nelson-level rad but not very inviting. Clever but not comforting. Smart as a whip, but a bit too eager to remind me of that fact.

It’s funny, at some point you stopped telling stories of eating sloth in Bolivia and grubs in the Australian outback because you thought we were teasing you. We were teasing you, but that’s the name of this game. I know this dish is connected to your culture, and I appreciate that, but it doesn’t seem to be particularly connected to you.

This is Zach the technician at his best, Zach the professor, Zach the wise. But this is also f*cking nachos. I wanted “Zach the beer drinking buddy, who tells a wild story of hunting snow leopard then rips a nasty cheese fart.”

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