Cassoulet was born, as many deep-rooted comfort food dishes are, out of hunger and a need to use up leftover ingredients. At its most basic, it is a thick, stewlike casserole with duck, pork or other meaty bits, and meltingly tender beans under a golden crust. The correct way to make cassoulet is a point of contention throughout France with each village claiming it makes the authentic version. The cassoulet cook-off is to France what the chili cook-off is to the United States. Andre Daguin, a famous French chef, once said, “Cassoulet is not really a recipe, it’s a way to argue among neighboring villages of Gascony.”
From its humble beginnings on farms in Southwest France, cassoulet has made its way onto the menus of top-rated restaurants and is the star of an annual taste-test war between top chefs in New York City. D’Artagnan’s Third Annual Cassoulet War invited an amazing group of some of the top culinary minds to cook and present their own version of cassoulet. Winners were crowed in three categories: best authentic, best creative and audience favorite. Each chef had to make the case for their creation to a panel of chefs from France and around the world for the authentic and creative categories. In a walk-around tasting, attendees cast their vote for the audience favorite winner.
Each cassoulet was unique in its own way, but all followed the formula of a thick, hearty meat-based stew with beans. All types of meat made an appearance, though most favored the traditional duck confit and pork sausage. Chef Alexander Burger of Bar Boulud won the popular vote for his traditional cassoulet, which included a steamy, meat smorgasbord of foie gras fat, ham skin, duck legs and gizzards confit. Get a glimpse of its creation here.
The award for Best Authentic Cassoulet was a tie between Chef Pierre Landet of Félix and Chef Anita Lo of Annisa. Chef Cedric Tovar of Bobo and Chef Ryan Lory of Charlie Palmer Steak (dish pictured above) also tied in the Best Creative Cassoulet category.
While “wars” may be waged over its authenticity and Michelin-starred chefs vie for the most-creative version, cassoulet has always been a concoction anyone with a sturdy dish can make at home. For a comforting meal any day try Melissa D’Arabian’s 5-star Weekday Cassoulet, which uses affordable chicken thighs, bacon and white beans. Snowed in? Try this more in-depth version from the Food Network Kitchen: Cassoulet with Sausage.