10th Annual Almost Famous Chef Competition: Signature Dish

This post is part 2 of a larger series about the 10th Annual S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition 

Welcome to Day 2 of the Almost Famous Chef Competition!

If you missed Day 1 of the competition, the Mystery Basket, definitely go check out that post here to learn about the background of this competition.

This was it – the final culmination of months of intense preparation. These contestants had poured hours and hours into practicing their signature dishes over and over again.

The Signature Dish Competition features the same exact winning dishes that these students created during Regionals.

The twist?

Instead of serving it to just eight judges at Regionals, they would be preparing it for 200 guests! Yes! All of the guests would get to taste these creations!

The day is intense, with the kitchen opening up right at 1:00PM (isn’t that the most gorgeous culinary school kitchen you’ve ever seen?)
Contestants have exactly four hours in which to complete everything. The bell rings at 5PM, and they need to bring everything down to the reception hall for the guests, who arrive at 5:30PM.

Each contestant has two assistants (students from the Culinary Institute of America) to help out in whatever way possible!

Ding! Precisely at 5:00PM contestants pack up their dishes and bring them down to the reception area. Here, they have exactly 30 minutes to set up before guests arrive.

At 5:30 PM, guests started pouring in, lining up at various “stations” to sample all of the dishes the contestants (and their assistants) had worked so hard to prepare. Of course, there was plenty of Acqua Panna and San Pellegrino water to keep everyone well hydrated.
Meanwhile, the judges sat in a separate room, tasting and critiquing courses one at a time.

Who are the judges?

Top Row: James Oseland from Saveur, Chef Gary Danko from Restaurant Gary Danko (sitting next to Jody Adams), Chef Eric Ripert from Le Bernardin (talking to host Jake Hanover)

Second Row: Chef Michel Richard from Citronelle in DC, Culinary Institute of America instructor

Third Row: Susur Lee from LEE Restaurant in Toronto, Tony Mantuano from Spiaggia in Chicago, Sophie Gayot from Gayot.com, and Lucy Waverman from the Globe and the Mail

Fourth Row: Jody Adams from Rialto, Adam Rapaport from Bon Appetit, and Bob Hurley from Hurley’s Restaurant.

[For more details and background about the judges, check out the Mystery Basket post]

Let’s see what each contestant prepared!

The Signature Dishes!

Daniela Molettieri from Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec made Fillet of Veal Stuffed with Wild Mushrooms, Butternut Squash and Roasted Hazelnut Puree, Mix of Québec Vegetables.
Paul Terrebonne from Nicholls State University – Chef John Folse Culinary Institute made Snapper Lafourche.

Jane Harris from Stratford University made Korean Bibimbap.
Joseph Johnson from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles made Ras El Hanout Crusted Lamb.

Jennifer Kim from Kendall College made Chard-Rolled Duck Roulade.
Helen Hayes from The Culinary Institute of Charleston at Trident Technical College made Thai Inspired Halibut with Sautéed Shrimp & Coconut Rice.
Eliakim John Acuna from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Miami made a dish called D’ Oceana.
Christopher Ravanello from The French Culinary Institute made Braised Short Ribs with Sweet Potato Puree and Celery Root/Apple Foam.
Geoffrey Lanez from Johnson & Wales University in Providence made Pan Fried Halibut with Pistachio Crust.

Daniel Beal from Johnson & Wales University in Denver made Sauté Chicken Breast with Asparagus, Potato and Ox Tongue.

 The Awards!

This year, chef Ralph Pagano and actress Lorraine Bracco hosted the award ceremony.
First, they honored all of the judges, asking them to come on stage.

Then they asked all of the contestants (the true stars of the weekend!) to come up on stage. What an intense moment! Months and months of hard work, practicing over and over in the kitchen, was culminating at this moment.

People’s Choice Award

The winner is Joseph Johnson! Joseph made an absolutely delicious spice-rubbed lamb that was wonderfully flavorful and perfectly cooked. It was definitely one of my favorites of the evening, and I can totally see why it won the popular vote – it was really, really tasty!  

Fan Favorite 

The winner of the Fan Favorite Award (which is based on online voting) is Eliakim John Acuna, whose D’Oceana dish consisted of a variety of seafood stewed in a Thai-inspired coconut broth.

Mystery Basket

The winner of the Mystery Basket Competition is Jennifer Kim, who made a gorgeous seared veal top round, black kale chips, sautéed seasonal vegetables, and Parisienne gnocchi the day before creatively using the secret ingredients veal and black kale.

Signature Dish

The winner of the Signature Dish Competition is Daniel Beal who made sauté Chicken Breast with Asparagus, Potato and Ox Tongue!
Let’s take a look at that gorgeous winning dish again.
And then it became time to announce the final winner of the S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef competition. The stakes were huge: $10,000 and a paid internship with one of the chef judges. The winner has the highest combined score from both the Mystery Basket Competition and the Signature Dish Competition. Because of that, it was likely that either Jennifer or Daniel would win the entire competition.

And the winner is . . . .

Jennifer Kim!!!!

Congratulations Jennifer!

You performed solidly throughout the entire competition. Your Mystery Basket entry was creative and perfectly cooked, and I personally really enjoyed your Signature Dish (loved the tart mustard sauce on top of the perfectly cooked “sous-vide” duck roulade).

Let’s just take a look behind the scenes to see how much work went into Jennifer’s Signature Dish.

Isn’t that incredible? Jennifer used various parts of whole ducks to complete her meal, including roasting duck bones to make a stock, crisping up duck skin, cooking a duck roulade in a Sous Vide circulator at a very precise temperature.

Super congratulations! Here is Jennifer with several of the winners.

Congratulations Jennifer! (Hee hee, I got to hold the BIG check!)

Luis Young, Joncarl Lachman, me, Jennifer Kim, and Jane Harris

I also had a chance to meet a few of the hosts and judges:

Here I am with TV personality Jake Hanover, who actually hosted ALL of the Regionals competitions this year! I met him at New England Regionals while since I was a judge there! It was great, because he really got to follow the students and get to know them.
I had a wonderful chance to chat with my “neighbor” Jody Adams from Rialto (whose restaurant is only a 10-minute walk from my home!). I also met her husband, Ken Rivard, who photographs and writes an absolutely gorgeous food blog called The Garum Factory which details the dishes he and Jody cook at home.

It’s my second time seeing Eric Ripert this year! He was super nice to everyone, talking to people and signing cookbooks that people were handing to him.

Although I didn’t get photos, I also enjoyed chatting with Tony Mantuano, who told me all about what it was like to be on Top Chef Masters. Interestingly, three other people from that season (Jody Adams, Susur Lee, and James Oseland) were actually judges here. Tony told me the chefs became really good friends through the show. Susur Lee also confirmed the fact in a later conversation I had with him.

I asked Tony whether he would do something like Top Chef Masters again, and he said, “maybe.”

All the Signature Dishes

I’m always awed by the talent of these young chefs, and this year was no exception. Great job to everyone – you are all winners and I am confident you will all go very far.

Til next year, Napa!

Coming upwe will return to the Winter in Las Vegas Series. I will also write about some of the other experience we had in Napa, including the last Thomas Keller restaurant not yet covered on this blog, a couple fantastic Michelin starred restaurants in San Francisco as well as Napa Valley, and visits to some pretty awesome wineries.

Disclaimer: San Pellegrino paid for my travel and lodging expenses for this event

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  1. says

    Gosh I’m so envious you got to experience this! And yeah, that school is GORGEOUS…so is the judge’s table! A blend of classics and regal…So nice.

    Hee hee, you look very happy next to Eric Ripert! :-)

  2. LauraGoyer@AnUneducatedPalate says

    What an amazing experience this must have been, and you did a fabulous job sharing it.  

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