2013 Local Chef Challenge This Weekend at MOA

Cooking is an art as well as a science.

The flavors, the temperatures, the seasonings, the methods all have to come together in perfect harmony to make your tastebuds sing.  

And while it might make perfect sense to pair chicken with wild rice, onions, and mushrooms when you have the luxury of a grocery store or farmer’s market at your fingertips, what about when you are limited to a few unusual ingredients selected by a panel of judges, like, say kumquats, pistachios, mascarpone, and chow mein noodles? How do you create magic out of those ingredients (and a stocked pantry) within a limited time?

A true test of a chef’s talent lies in not only creative, delicious outside-the-box dishes, but also on-the-fly thinking: two of the elements needed to win the Minnesota Monthly Local Chef Challenge. (It also helps when the food is plated nicely.)

The Local Chef Challenge—held this coming weekend at the Rotunda at Mall of America—is a great way to watch great local masterminds at work (bonus that it’s free to watch!). The Rotunda is located near the American Girl store on the lower level, near Nickelodean Universe.

The last chef standing receives a $10,000 grand prize and bragging rights. There will be eight chefs competing in elimination rounds, the first round starting on Saturday, April 6 at 10 a.m.; the final round declaring the winner on Sunday, April 7 at 3 p.m. The chefs competing include Donald Gonzalez of Forepaugh’s, Jorge Guzman of Solera, Sarah Master of Barbette, Marshall Paulsen of Birchwood Café, Nick O’Leary of Borough, Sameh Wadi of Saffron, Doug Flicker of Piccolo, and JD Fratzke of The Strip Club Meat and Fish. Judges include Minnesota Monthly TC Taste food bloggers Stephanie Meyer, Jason Ross (chef instructor at Le Cordon Bleu), Jason DeRusha (WCCO TV reporter), Minnesota Monthly food critic Rachel Hutton, plus Cambria brand advocate Mariel Hemingway.

After attending the challenge the past four years, I can tell you it’s some fierce competition. Some of the chefs arrive early to scope out what/how the other chefs handle the pressure, others prepare a general concept in advance. It’s really anyone’s game, depending on how the chefs adapt to an unfamiliar space (some chefs say they feel like a fish out of water when not in their own kitchen), incorporate the mystery ingredients, and whip up a masterpiece in a short time frame. The dishes are incredible! If I could think like that—cooking with unusual ingredients on-the-fly—my family would be a lot less likely to groan when I pick up a ready-prepared rotisserie chicken from the grocery store for dinner … again.

Good luck to those competing this weekend! May the best chef win!