S. Pellegrino 9th Annual Almost Famous Chef Competition: Signature Dish

This post is part 4 of a larger series about the 9th Annual S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition.

This was it. This was the moment that would decide the final outcome of the entire competition. 10 students from all over North America had come together here in Napa Valley to compete for the Grand Prize of the Almost Famous Chef Competition.

Each had already competed in the Mystery Basket competition a day earlier. A combination of their scores from both events would determine the final winner.

The Signature Dish competition is especially interesting because each student has complete creative control over what dish to create. All of these regional finalists are cooking the winning dishes that got them here. You’re seriously tasting the best of the best here. The twist? Instead of cooking it for 8 judges, they must now cook the dish for 200 guests!!

Crazy Challenging? Most definitely.

Let’s meet the judges, the competitors, and (of course), find out the results!

There was a star-studded line up of judges, well-known media personalities and famous chefs.

The judges sat together in a separate room and tasted each entry, one by one.

Meanwhile, the general guests outside visited the stations one by one to sample the dishes.

The entire competition was streamed live online for anyone in the world to see.

Meet the Competitors & their Dishes!

Jean-Francois Daigle from The George Brown Chef’s School made Honey Seared Bison Tenderloin with apple-parsnip puree.

Mark Maier from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts of LA made Deconstructed Chile Verde, which consisted of pork, pico de gaillo, salsa, polenta cake, and guacamole.

Alex Schnell from The culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park made Ginger Roasted Pork Tenderloin with ruby port and figs, and toasted walnut gnocchi.

Chunchira Eshleman from The International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Las Vegas made Hawaiian Chicken with sauteed bok choy and mushrooms, mashed taro root, and crushed pineapple.

Nicholas Hymel from Nicholis State University – John Folse Culinary Insititute made Quail Fricassee with creole cream cheese grits and smothered collard greens.

Emma Louth from Drexel University made “Smoke/Ocean/Prairie” which consisted of rare Bison tenderloin on a fig balsamic reduction topped with smoked and deep fried oysters with a crispy potato Napoleon and arugula pine nut salad.

Christopher Mckevitt from the Lincoln Culinary Institute in West Palm Beach made “Bounty of the Rockies” which consisted of a trio of lamb including smoky loin, homemade sausage, and Denver ribs with sweet shredded apple plus a corn fritter.

Elizabeth Freer from The Culinary Institute of Charlestown made “Two Way Rabbit”, which consisted of braised rabbit ravioli and pecan encrusted tenderloin.

Marco Bahena from Kendall College made Mediterranean Lamb Loin with Chicken Mousseline, olive oil poached potato, Lyonnaise salad and sauce foyot.

Anthony Messina from The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts made Squab with Apple-Parsnip Puree, smoked chard, fois gras emulsion, and garnishes.

In the Kitchen

The students had four hours to work on these dishes before the bell rang “Dong!” Time to bring your food downstairs!

At that moment, students immediately began packing up their ingredients in order to set up downstairs, which is where the guests would arrive.

Guests enjoyed sampling the various dishes and then voted for the “People Choice Award” by putting their coins into the box of their choice. Similarly, people online voted for the winner of the “Fan Favorite Award.”

Meanwhile, judges deliberated, took notes, and voted as well.

Votes being tabulated . . .

And then it was time to announce all the winners. Welcome our hosts, Ralph Pagano and Gail Simmons! Here’s the moment we had all been waiting for . . .

We applauded all the judges and all the students who worked so hard for this.

There was a lot at stake. $10,000 to the winner plus a one year internship with one of the chef judges. The winners of the other awards would still win $3000 each.

Fan Favorite

And the winner of the Fan Favorite award is Emma Louth!

People’s Choice

Congratulations to Elizabeth Freer for winning the People’s Choice Award.

Mystery Basket

Winner of the Mystery Basket?  Jean-Francois Daigle!

Signature Dish

Winner of the Signature dish competition?

Congratulations Marco Bahena from Kendall College in Chicago!!!

Marco also ended up winning The Grand Prize!!!!

Here’s a closer look at Marco’s winning dish, which I personally thought was absolutely delicious and definitely one of the best dishes of the night.

Mediterranean Lamb Loin with Chicken Mousseline, Olive Oil Poached Potato, Lyonnaise Salad and Sauce Foyot.

Congratulations Marco!

I also had a chance to meet in person some of the judges & hosts . . . .

Sophie Gayot

Gail Simmons and Ralph Pagano

Dana Cowin

Chef Jean Joho

Rick Moonen

And a shout out for Tony Messina, our local New England representative (he goes to school in Cambridge!)  Tony worked really really hard for this competition and I personally think he did an absolutely fantastic job. It was disappointing that he did not win, but I’m still confidant that Tony will go very, very far.

Seriously, everyone here is truly a winner. These culinary students have done so much just to earn the privilege of competing here in Napa Valley. Congrats to all you rising chefs! I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to observe your hard work first hand and also to taste your delicious creations. I can’t wait to visit all your restaurants someday . . . soon!

Til next year . . .

Related Posts
Day 1: Mystery Basket Competition
Nickel & Nickel Vineyard
Trefethen Vineyards
A Taste of Napa Valley
I’m going to Napa Valley!

8th Annual Almost Famous Chef Posts
Welcome Reception (Mar 11, 2010)
Mystery Basket (March 11, 2010)
Signature Dish Competition (March 12, 2010)
Del Dotto Caves / Winery (March 15, 2010)
Antica Vineyards (March 15, 2010)
Bouchon Bakery (March 16, 2010)
Our own Excursion: Vineyards (Robert Mondavi and Opus One) (March 17, 2010)
Redd (March 18, 2010)
French Laundry (March 19, 2010)
I was invited by S. Pellegrino to attend this competition. Like for all the other guests, S. Pellegrino took care of my airfare, hotel, and the cost of all the events.

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  1. says

    Jen I absolutely adored your series on this last year and was so excited to see you there again this year. Your posts are always so comprehensive and with such beautiful photography – I really felt like I was there with you. Nice work!

  2. Lukesnyderstudio says

    Hi Jen. As the official photographer, I wish I could have hired you to help me document this event. Your shots are first beautiful, and second, incredibly comprehensive at this action packed competition. I’ve been following your blog since I met you, and have enjoyed your posts, both visually and through reading, as if I was there. Thanks for sharing your creativity and perspective! I hope to get a chance to share the best angles again next year! Also, know I’m just hours away from blogging this event at http://www.lukesnyderstudio.com/blog

  3. jentinyurbankitchen says

    Luke, I just took a look at your website and I am absolutely floored by how beautiful your photos are! I love the artistry, creativity in your shots – I totally aspire to be able to take pictures like that some day!

    I am deeply honored to have someone of your caliber compliment my photography – seriously! It was great meeting you in Napa Valley and I do hope to see you there again next year!

    If I know anyone getting married in SF or Napa, I’ll be sure to tell them about you!

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