Rachel Baron

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March’s installment of the Takedowns, the Brooklyn-based cooking competition with an almost cult-like following, will take place this Sunday at Lot45 in Bushwick. This month’s ingredient is chocolate.

The Takedowns are the scrappy, madcap brainchild of Matt Timms, a Bushwick-based actor, artist, and filmmaker who was dubbed “the czar of amateur cook-offs” by Phoenix New Times. Though chili is Timms’ “flagship” takedown, and the one that got him into the whole idea, cooks have also competed to create the best meatballs, cookies, chili, and mac and cheese, among other crowd-pleasing concoctions.

The people who sign up are most often home cooks, each of whom are required to show up with a two-gallon vat of whatever comfort food Timms has selected, served out of a foil-topped chafing dish. There’s only one rule in the competition: bring enough food for 220 guests.

Timms initially kicked himself for missing his chance on Valentine’s Day, doing a mac and cheese Takedown instead of chocolate. “I wasn’t thinking,” he said. However, he feels pretty certain that no one will care – people love chocolate too much. He hopes people will bring dates.

Regardless of the ingredient, Timms tries to make the Takedowns as laid-back and friendly as possible, with only a pinch of good-spirited rivalry. According to participants like Amanda Reece, four-time participant and one-time winner of The Takedowns, it has succeeded in spades.

Matt Timms in a lobster hat, during one of The Takedowns.

“He makes things interesting even if you are absolutely dead last,” Reece said, referring to Timms. “He takes his wacky, positive spin on life in general and applies it to these events.”

Reece also notes Timms’ ability to create success from unlikely ventures, “He’s the man that was able to monetize bad drawings of cats.” When Timms isn’t hosting food competitions, he’s running a cat-painting business on the side called All the Bad Cats.  

Reece, who holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Contemporary Pastry Arts and Food Service Management, has made a wide variety of things for The Takedowns, from everything bagel mac and cheese to a roasted garlic chocolate chip cookie.

What brought home the gold, however, was a biscuit with homemade sausage gravy she collaborated on with a friend for one of the breakfast Takedowns. The recipe was nothing crazy – just classic biscuits and gravy. However, it won the audience vote, which Timms places more weight on than the judges’ choice. This keeps the event democratic, he said, and makes the crowds feel more involved.  

“My events are not elite,” he said. “They’re not elite-feeling. It feels like a community event. But, it’s way too fucking cool to be just some silly community event.”

The Takedowns’ contestant.

Something of a food competition auteur, Timms strives to maintain absolute control over every aspect of The Takedowns. He chooses the dish or ingredient, venue, plays his own music, and even emcees. The only help he will accept from the venue is supplies of beer and other alcohol, plus he’ll occasionally get a person to check tickets. “I get too involved,” Timms said and then also admitted, “I’m not very good at juggling things.”

The slightly chaotic, homespun vibe of The Takedowns is likely what attracts such a wide range of cooks, from innovative, creatively-minded young people like Reece, to elderly Russian women from Sheepshead Bay. One winner was a retired NFL player, who actually launched his own meatball company after winning a meatball Takedown.

It’s no Top Chef, and Timms intends to keep it that way. He’s gained enough of a following doing things the way he likes, and has even had success in other cities. He’s held a bacon Takedown in Nashville, as well as one with avocados in Los Angeles. The Takedowns have been featured in the New York Times twice, and have gotten numerous write-ups in The Village Voice. Even big-ticket kitchenware companies like Le Creuset and Wusthof have taken notice, offering their products as prizes.

Though cooks show up hoping to win, they typically shrug off failure with grace. Timms in particular loves to watch a contestant “flame out,” or fail dramatically, if only because it means they took a leap of faith. One such leap involved a blue cheese-bacon-chocolate chip cookie at one of the cookie Takedowns. It was not a success, but Timms was tickled by their bravery, “They tried, and they reached for the stars, and they got too close to the sun.”

The Takedown’s taste testers.

The chocolate Takedown will take place this coming Sunday, March 24, at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased here for $25, which covers tastings of each of the contestants’ chocolate creations. Want to enter yourself? Email [email protected] to reserve a station.

Follow Timms on Instagram, or hire him to paint your bad cat.

All images courtesy of Matt Timms.

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