Making a job out of the munchies

Making a job out of the munchies
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

What do mac and cheese, velvet Elvis paintings, and pots of chili have in common? They are all the building blocks of a career.

The Takedowns are a series of pub contests in which entrants take a ubiquitous food, like mac and cheese or meatballs, or a kitschy art form, like cat drawings or velvet Elvis paintings, and compete to come up with the tastiest or best-looking creation in a short time period. And the Bushwick resident behind the wacky events treats organizing them like it is his job — because it is.

“This is all I do now,” said Takedown organizer Matt Timms. “I’m supposed to be an actor.”

The events started a decade ago as informal cook-offs in Timms’ Williamsburg pad. But soon he was hosting his unique brand of food face-offs in watering holes around the borough and, before long, they had grown too big for venues such as Matchless and Union Pool, forcing them into their current home in Gowanus’ Bell House.

Timms charges admission to the Takedowns, but it is free to compete. All gastronomical gladiators have to come up with are their own supplies. Prizes are often furnished by corporate sponsors — usually they consist of a food processor, a set of knives, or some cookware. The master master of ceremonies would not divulge how much he makes per event, but said that it covers his rent. His only concern now is that the Takedown brand could one day get too big.

“I just want to make sure they stay like a Takedown, like I used to have in my living room,” he said, explaining that amateurism is key to the events, as opposed to the polished approach of professional cooks.

“This thing about emerging home cooks is really important,” he said. “Chefs suck.”

Timms takes exception to formally trained chefs because they have to make the same dish over and over again, whereas home cooks get to improvise and do what they feel like.

“[Cooking is] not an art, no matter what a chef says,” he said. “Anyone who says it is is full of s—.”

The frank impresario donates a small portion of what he makes at the cooking contests to the Women’s Education Project, an organization that helps young women pursue higher education in India, and the art battles are entirely for charity, he said. He auctions off the art pieces afterwards and donates the proceeds to a different cause each time, he said.

Timms has an arts background thanks to his father, a museum director, and his mother, a painter, but he is quick to point out he is no Van Gogh.

“I’m a s—– artist, myself,” he said.

Timms’ first non-food match was a Bob Ross Takedown, where he projected an episode of the smooth-talking painter’s how-to show and contestants tried to paint along.

“I thought it would be more of a competition,” he said. “But artists are such hippies.”

These days, Timms often takes his show on the road, sharing the joy of competitive home cooking with cities all over the country. He books about 15 events a year and the job has brought him to San Franscisco, Portland, and Boston, to name a few, he said.

A Mac and Cheese Takedown is coming up on March 23 at the Bell House. Thirty competitors are signed up and the 250 spectator tickets have already sold out for $15 a pop.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.