Monday, February 8, 2010

Fast Dancing at the 2010 S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition

Yes, it's true. Courtesy of Foodbuzz and the S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition, this non-gambling, non-glitzy Italian cook journeyed to the the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas on Thursday, February 4th. Two hours later, I was in a cab, lost in Vegas as the (harried but earnest) cab driver's GPS System kept sending us hither and yon to escape the five accidents on the interstate. Forty-five minutes later, I was at the Las Vegas School of Culinary Arts, meeting and greeting the most helpful people in the world and thrust into a busy kitchen.
Sparkling Pellegrino. The fast-dancing of the bubbles mimicked the hustle and bustle in the kitchen.

A few hours later, one young chef would win first prize, step in front of this display and be granted a chance to compete in Napa Valley from March 5-8, 2010. The competition is fast, heady, creative, and could be a deal-breaker. The winning chef will not only have the prestigious title but also up to $20,000 in prizes and a paid apprenticeship from one of the participating chef judges. Not bad for a recent culinary school grad heading out into a highly competitive world.


Inside the Culinary School's restaurant, the stage was set. The Mountain Region Competition has the largest number of contenders. The kitchen was giddy with excitement - for the first time the competition was streaming online and broadcast over the Internet. Families and fans could watch the entire competition and judging by the Facebook page - they did.


Media, chefs, kitchen judges and well - me - filled the kitchen. Braising, simmering, saucing, chopping, mincing, scalding...


... scraping, slicing, squeezing....




Carefully watched and questioned by the kitchen judges...



... being timed by the clock...


Keeping your cool and focusing on the task at hand.


For the chefs will soon be in this room, filled with judges who will taste, question and look for clarification regarding their choice of ingredients, their methods, the art of plating....


It's a dissertation really. "How much will this cost?" "Is this a special, a seasonal item or a standard entree?" "Or is it an appetizer?" "What wine would you choose for your dish?" "Were you happy with what you did?"
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The young chefs discussed their inspiration, their choices of melding risotto with squash, parsnips with cream, infusing garlic into a dish, reduction sauces, time constraints. As one chef mentioned, "I thought five minutes was a lot longer than it really is!"
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While the chefs certainly had an intense day, I was the lucky one - brought there to sample, indulge and report. And I did. I tasted all while sipping healthy doses of S. Pellegrino sparkling water (and one glass of wine!). I was there to celebrate all of them. For the chefs, just being asked to be in the competition was an honor. And the stakes are very high. I spoke with many of them. Some were very assured - amazingly calm really and others were in a smiling, zen-state. And of course, others were feeling the intense pressure. But through it all, there was camaraderie, humor and strong support and respect for each other.


Once out of the kitchen, guests were treated to a platter of fruits..


And cheeses.
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I'll let these young chefs speak now and you can see their views on cooking and why they want to be a chef. And parents and grandparents take note: What you do in the kitchen with your children can have far-reaching, wonderful effects! Below each photo find the chef and their dish. I tried them all and was immensely grateful that I was not a judge - because I couldn't possibly choose... all were taste sensations.

CHEF: Carlos Rodolfo Gonzalez Saucedo
DISH: Pan Roasted Fresh Cod
"In my family, the making of dishes represents the reunion of loved ones. Every time my mother makes a large and elaborate meal, I get excited just knowing that our house will be full of chatter and joy."

CHEF: Daniel R. Laferriere
DISH: New England Grilled Lobster
"When I was a kid, I was always intrigued by my father when he would cook something different. Later in life, I received The French Laundry as a gift. Once I read that book, I knew then I wanted to be a chef.

CHEF: Jy'cen D. Loften
DISH: Herb-Grilled Pork Tenderloin
"My grandmother would be the person who contributed to my decision of becoming a chef simply because she taught me mostly everything I know about the culinary arts."


CHEF: Athena E. Thickstun
DISH: Black Currant Duck 'a la Plancha'
"I would someday like to open a farm-to-table, fine dining concept, but for a few years after graduation I would like to travel and work for as many chefs as I can. I want to learn about all styles and cultures of food. I don't plan to ever stop learning!"

CHEF: Miguel Vazquez Sanchez
DISH: Pan-Seared Breast of Chicken
"My mom has been my inspiration. She has taught me how to make mole and many other foods. I can say I have always been around food; I used to live in a town where everything is about food, flavor and aroma."


CHEF: Alexandra Arellano Padilla
DISH: Venison Confit in Adobo
"My grandmother has always been my strongest influence. My mother noticed the attention I paid to my grandmother's cooking style and that I had an interest in ingredients and style. She encouraged me by giving me my first cooking kit and recipe book. Ever since that day, I have dedicated my life to the kitchen."


CHEF: Andrew Kirsh
DISH: Pan-Roasted Duck Breast
"When I was a young child, my grandmother would spend hours in the kitchen toiling away over classical Italian dishes. Seeing her dedication to what she did and the reactions that her food evoked are what inspired me initially to become a chef."

CHEF: Robert Crawford
DISH: Roasted Garlic-Stuffed Lamb Loin
"I have had so many influences that have helped me along the way. Of course, the first was my grandmother; not only did she allow me in her kitchen but she would discuss her cooking 'secrets" with me"


CHEF: Ryan Wieczorek
DISH: Mongolian Sauteed Salmon
"I want to learn various types of cuisine that will influence the way I cook. I want to travel to various places to learn the culture and cooking styles. I believe that when I am finished developing my abilities, it will be time to open a restaurant and set a new goal."


CHEF: Cynthia M. Moss
DISH: Pork Loin Chop
"I admire all chefs for what they do. It is a hard job, but it's nice to know there are so many chefs who are passionate about what they do."
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As you can see, much thought, labor and artistry goes into these platings. Sauces, vegetables, starches all designed to highlight the taste of the entree, please the eye and win the palette. The judges took a wee bit longer than planned to make their decision so the task was not easy.
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In the end, Robert Crawford took the high honor with his Roasted Garlic-Stuffed Lamb Loin.

Robert Crawford is interviewed after his big win by Fabiano Viviano of Bravo's Top Chef fame. Mr. Viviano kept up the most delightful commentary with the chefs throughout the competition. Filled with silliness, appreciation and unwavering support for these chefs, his good humor was appreciated by all.
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Robert Crawford will be in Napa Valley in March with all the regional winners. Self-assured and determined, he remains unflappable during the heat of the competition. I will be closely following the final event. I feel now as if I have a stake in it. One cannot attend a regional competition without coming out a wee bit in favor of the chef whose dish astounded you. You can follow the competition at The Sparkling Life. It, too will be streaming online. More on the Mountain Competition can be found at The Almost Famous Chef website. You can also hear what people have to say by following them on Twitter or becoming a Fan of the competition on Facebook.
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As for me, I can only say "lucky you" to the blogger who goes to Napa. And say "lucky me" for receiving the honor of going to Vegas. I am deeply appreciative to Foodbuzz for the trip and to Alexa Malott for support throughout this fast and busy process. And I extend heartfelt thanks to S. Pellegrino Sparkling Water for not only adding sparkles to my drinks, but giving me extra sparkle in my life. Thank-you to both for allowing me to witness life on the other side of a chef's blade.

39 comments:

Angie's Recipes said...

How cool! Roasted garlic stuffed lamb loin looks quite awesome...but I would probably go for the salmon...the colour looks perfect to me....

janet said...

That must have been a fun and fascinating time for you, Claudia. What a great experience! Thanks for sharing it!

Barbara GF said...

Brava, Claudia! Nicely done. What a culinary adventure you were on. I like how you placed the photos of the dishes with the quotes from the chefs who made them underneath. It tied it all together well. I felt as though I had a little taste of your sparkling experience.

Claudia said...

Thanks all - I had a grand whirlwind experience and m grateful to Foodbuzz and Pellegrino.
ANGIE: The salmon was marinated in miso, orange juice and a bit of sugar and indeed was a stand-out. I am going to try to figure out the recipe.

5 Star Foodie said...

Wow, Claudia, how wonderful this experience must have been! Congratulations on winning this and thank you so much for an excellent coverage of the event!

Kim said...

What a wonderful report, Claudia! I really enjoyed reading this post and can tell that you had an absolutely wonderful time! So many wonderful looking plates of food. Congratulations on participating in this event, that's pretty darn cool.

pegasuslegend said...

What a blast! A great culinary experience so lucky you are my friend...awesome pictures....congrats on special time! thanks for sharing the moments!

Wanda said...

What an exciting thing to have done Claudia...your reporting of the event was so well done here on your blog. I really enjoyed it!

Cinnamon-Girl♥ said...

What a great experience Claudia! Everything looks so amazingly delicious. They are all very talented.

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

Claudia! How exciting! Congratulations for being chosen as one of the judges! It must have been so difficult to chose a winner with so many fine recipes and presentations, Your reporting and photograpphy is superb --thanks so much for this wonderful and inspiring post! Brava!

Claudia said...

Many thanks. I was not a judge by any means - merely a reporter. A well-fed reporter I might add!

My Carolina Kitchen said...

How exciting to be at this wonderful event. I know you must be having fun. Congratulations for being chosen a reporter. Have fun.
Sam

Chow and Chatter said...

wow what an amazing experience must have been like a dream lol

OysterCulture said...

Oh, Yippeee! What fun and thanks for taking us along for the ride! We had a blast. That was a heck of an experience and I am so happy you enjoyed it and got a break from that lovely MN weather.

theUngourmet said...

Oh my gosh, how exciting was this! It looks like such a fantastic time!!

Sophie said...

Oooh waw, Claudia!! What a fun exeperience it had to be for you!! Yeah!!

All of the fine food looks equally tasty!!

Thanks for sharing this with us!!

Katherine Aucoin said...

How lucky are you! Loks like you had a fabulous time. One thing that sticks with me about this post is how many of the young chefs paid attention to their grandmothers. Now if that isn't a testament, I don't know what is!

Katy ~ said...

Oh, Claudia, what a wonderful experience, to see the pros at work like this. Fabulous! Thank you for sharing. I am envious.

Gera @ SweetsFoodsBlog said...

Wonderful tasty experience Claudia!! Thanks for sharing these foodie events :)

Cheers,

Gera

Proud Italian Cook said...

Claudia, you did amazing!Congratulations on a job well done. How fun was that! Vegas, warm weather, good food. Did you try at least one slot?

Claudia said...

Didn't try one quarter in the slots. Did go to one of Mario Batali's restaurants and to Thomas Keller's Bouchon and Bouchon Bakery instead. Was worth the trade.

My Little Space said...

Congrats on your trip! That is just sooo cool. Of coz, it's a great experience. Isn't it?
Btw, those food are so inviting! LUCKY YOU! haha...

alwayswinner786 said...

Thats a wonderful event thanks for sharing with us. Evey dish is eye catching. I love Roasted Garlic-Stuffed Lamb Loin. I think Robert deserve that award.

joe@italyville said...

What a great experience Claudia! It must have been so much fun. I love watching all the chef competitions on TV... this must have been such a treat. I'm off to Vegas tomorrow... but not for anything as fun as this.

marla {Family Fresh Cooking} said...

What a lovely post! Sounds like the trip to Vegas was inspirational for all. Thanks for giving us such a detailed report. It is thrilling to know that our children can take so much from our time spent together in the kitchen.

eatingRD said...

What a great experience! All those dishes looked exceptional, how did they choose? :)

Claudia said...

RD - we were asked to write a blog about why we would like to be chosen. (So it's my blog before the report.) Sort of a contest - to watch a contest!

Fun Fearless Foodie said...

Congrats Claudia, great recap! I too entered the contest and while disappointed i didn't win, I am glad you made the most of it for all us food bloggers!

Juliana said...

Wow, it seems a lot of fun...such a nice experience...the pictures are great. Thanks for sharing it :-)

Tiffanee said...

Wow! Incredible! What an experience. You did such an awesome job posting this contest. Congratulations and I hope you go to relax a little while you were there.

Lori Lynn said...

How fabulous Claudia! You are a terrific reporter, I felt the intensity. the photos are excellent, such a great experience for you and the young chefs. Bravo!
LL

doggybloggy said...

HOW COOL FOR YOU - I heard you were going (oh that grapevine) and I think your recap of the event is outstanding.

wine reviews said...

Great post! Wonderful pictures and I just love Vegas. I'm going at the end of this month and I can't wait.....it's been years. Cheers~

Natashya KitchenPuppies said...

What a fabulous experience! Thanks for reporting back for us.

Mary said...

What a treat this experience must have been. Your photos are terrific. Almost - almost - like being there. Have a wonderful Valentine's Day. Blessings...Mary

Recipe man said...

looks amazing what a great report and the photos are great.

look like a lot of fun and a great experience ,thanks

Fresh Local and Best said...

What an amazing event! Congratulations on being chosen to go to Las Vegas! You are so lucky!

bonnie said...

How excitng for you, I am so glad you had such a great time, everything looks so delish!! Congrats!!

sweetlife

Haddock said...

Like the series of photographs.