Howdy folks. I just wanted to let you know that Las Vegas and the World Chef Challenge was a truly incredible experience. There were alot of highly talented chefs that we were privileged to compete against and hang out with. Some of those guys include Jeff Henderson (Food Network’s Chef Jeff Project/Executive Chef of the Bellagio) Ben Vaugn (Food Network’s Health Inspector’s) and Christian Collins (Gordon Ramsey’s Masterchef). In my opinion this was the competition. The dishes that these guys put out throughout the challenges were amazing. My personal biggest competitor was Jeff Henderson because of his food style and background. Jeff and I shared the same background story of growing up in poverty, running the streets at an early age, & in and out of trouble with the police. You can hear and see the passion from both of us as we traded in our troubled past for chef coats.
THe World Chef Challenge competition consisted on a variety of challenges to test your skill, cooking ability, and execution. First challenge was to break down a whole frozen chicken in 2 minutes. As this was the first competition I was extremely nervous. It is a whole different story when you are working against the clock. It was very stressful! I ended up not finihsing my chicken making only 6 out of 8 cuts. Off to a rocky start and dead last. I told myself, Frohne pull yourself together. Johnathon was also telling me to relax. I knew I had to make a comeback and so I set myself to it. Next event was onion dice. I did very well in this challenge along with the potato tourne.
Next portion of the day and challenge moved onto the actual head to head cooking. I was excited about this part because I felt very confident and now relaxed. First challenge was Twisted Eggs Benedict. All the chefs were given basic ingredients to create a new version of eggs benedict. I had been practicing this new technique of “fried hollandaise” that I wanted to execute in the dish. Not only because it was delicious & southern…but I thought I may get some brownie points from Colman Andrews & the other judges. The dish was Pasture Benedict w/ Filet Mignon, Charred Pepper Romesco, Smoked Watercress & Oyster Mushroom Salad, & Fried Hollandaise. I think Colman was impressed. His exact words were Wow, never heard of a fried hollandaise. Eyebrows went up from other chefs when the word fried hollandaise came out.
Next challenge was Salmon Throwdown. All chefs were given a piece of salmon and 45 minutes to create a dish with limited cooking equipment. I wanted to flex my creativity in this challenge. I didn’t want to do just a seared filet of salmon as many did. I ended up doing a play on Boudin Blanc Sausage and did a Salmon Boudin Blanc w/ Eggplant & Corn Ravigote with Crispy Pancetta. I received high remarks from the judges and other chefs. This was my last challenge of the day and I didn’t want to go home.
All of us chefs were standing together chatting as the judges were tabulating the scores. This was very nerve wracking. All I knew was that i felt confident in the dishes I put out and felt that I did make a comeback from the rocky start I had in the beginning of the competition. The judges presented their scores and began calling off names of the 8 semi finalists who will be advancing to the next round. My heart was throbbing. Tyey got to the 7th person and called off their name. I got really discouraged and didn’t think i was advancing. I even whispered to my wife, Lessie, and said we didn’t get it babe. As soon as I said that they called out my name. I was overjoyed! I was too stressed to enjoy this small victory but rather thinking ahead on what I was going to do for the next challenge which consisted of a duck entree and app on the same plate. I yelled to Johnathon, “Let’s go to Whole Foods.” We raced off for a taxi. Both of us completely exhausted from standing in the hot sun competing for over 8 hrs.
Once we got to Whole Foods we starting constructing our dish. I knew I wanted to feature some seasonal flavors in the dish and highlight the fall season even though it didn’t feel like fall in Vegas. The dish we decided upon was doing a play on porchetta but using duck. We did a Fennel Pollen rubbed Ducketta w/ Cauliflower Puree, Black Cherry Gastrique, and Curried Pumpkin & Apple Hash. The app was a Honey Date Pipette w/ Goat Cheese Mousse & Mint Balsamic Emulsion. John and I both felt very confident with this dish.
This was the most intense competition. Chef Jeff Henderson and I were actually competing in the same round which made me nervous but happy. I felt that If I was going to go out it would be going against someone like him. Throughout this challenge there were alot of malfunctions with my cooking equipment on stage. My oven would go below 500 degrees so I had to prop open the oven door with a towel. Then the towel almost caight on fire. There wasn’t a strong gas flow to my stove top burners and my sauces were taking forever. About 15 minutes into the challenge they fixed everything. I was feeling more and more confident as I was finishing each component of the dish, tasting them, and gathering all my mise en places for plating. I saw Chef Jeff peek over at my dish and looked like he was feeling a bit nervous himself. It came down to the last 5 minutes and everyone began plating. I finished palting mine and I was impressed with both the flavors and presentation. I had numerous chefs come up to look at the dish and tell me good job. I even had Chef Jeff Henderson whisper over my shoulder and told me that If I won I have to give him 2% of the winnings. We both laughed but everyone’s eye was on my dish. Once we took the dishes down to the judging area I had a ton of folks shaking my hand, congratulating me on the dish, and taking photos of the dish. I truly felt this was the best dish i put forth and thought I was going to win. When it came time to judging the judges picked another dish. I think everyone was in shock for that one.
We found out that we weren’t advancing to the finals. I was a bit discouraged after all the hard work but it was truly an experience. I met so many great people and make some good connections in the food world. Chef Jeff even offered to put me a word in with the producers of Top Chef. All in all it was fun! I wanted to thank everyone again who contributed to the campaign to make it possible for us to get to Vegas to comepte. I am truly appreciative. Also a big thanks to Chris Chamberlain for covering the event with his camera. Look forward to seeing the pictures!