San Pellegrino – Almost Famous Chef Competition

Things Are Hot And Steamy In This Kitchen

For the 11th year in a row, San Pellegrino’s “Almost Famous Chef” competition, has been heating up kitchens, in culinary schools, all over the country. On January 23, 2013, the annual chef’s contest, weaved its way to The Astor Center in NYC, for the Northeast regional cook-off. As one of the fortunate food bloggers, invited by The Blogger Connection, to get a “behind the scenes” taste of this spectacular event, I relished every minute. 

San Pellegrino’s “Almost Famous” contest, gives rising young stars, of the Culinary Arts, a chance to compete in the finals in Napa, California. The 1st prize winner, will earn a paid apprenticeship, with a celebrity chef, along with a cash prize of $20,000, which should go a long way, towards paying off some pesky school loans.

Almost Famous Laurent Tourendel

Discerning Tastebuds Know

This year’s esteemed panel of judges included: Chef Jean François (Daniel Restaurant), Chef Matt Storch (Match), Chef Jason Weiner (Almond), Chef Laurent Tourondel (BLT), Chef Missy Robbins (A Voce), Alyssa Shelasky (NY Magazine), Dan Myers (The Daily Meal), and Linda Kavanagh (New England Culinary Group).

Not So Hot!

Seohyung Im, who studies at The Institute of Culinary Education, was the first contestant to present her plate, to the judges. While she had red-hot passion for her meal, the judges all agreed, that the temperature of her food, was way too cold. 

And So Tasty Too!

In the backstage area, I observed Yong Shin, who hones his craft, at The International Culinary Center, display a magnificent focus and determination. Observing the plating his dish of soy braised short ribs, was a joy for me to watch. Not only was it gorgeous, but his meal was also, one of the most flavorful of the night. 

She’s Got The Best Name For A Famous Chef

Amanda Amor, student at Lincoln Culinary Institute, painstakingly prepared Roasted Stuffed Squab with heavenly Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes, and perfectly timed Brussel Sprouts.

The People Have Eaten And Chosen

I’m was a tad shocked, that Matthew Grunwald, who is earning his cooking chops, at The Culinary Institute of America, didn’t win the first prize. The audience did have some power though, and garnered him with a well deserved, People’s Choice Award, in the shape of a brand new spatula.

 Had To Have It!

I was too busy taking photos and didn’t get to sample this meal, so I went scrounging around in the kitchen for one of his plates. I spotted one lonely, gigantic shrimp, floating in a pan of delicious drippings and Matt Harris from Salt Communications, insisted that I pick it out of the pan and enjoy! I devoured it.

Almost Famous

So Many Bones, So Little Time

After smoking and then meticulously pin boning a 10 pound salmon, Joseph Mikitish, Academy of Culinary Arts, was highly praised by all the judges for his Cherry And Ancho Smoked Salmon.

Chef Matt Storch

From Fish To Dish

Matt Storch, Match Restaurant, lauded the detail oriented young culinary wiz, “The fish was perfectly cooked.” Everyone agreed.


Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

As his timer ticked down the minutes, Andrew Dubrule, SUNY Cobleskill, showed some signs of stress. His chef’s hat, drenched in sweat, as he carefully placed sprigs of rosemary, into his Maple Glazed Pork Tenderloin with Pumpkin Risotto.

When one of the judges declared, “Never put anything on a plate that you can’t eat”, there was a collective “Ah Ha” moment!  if he had only known, Andrew could have shaved 5-6 minutes off his time. Live and learn!


Smart Cookie! Jerri Custode Marinates With S. Pellegrino Aranciata

From my kitchen vantage point, I was able to see the passion, that went into the preparations of Jerri Custode’s, labor of love. A student at Culinary Arts Institute, Hudson County Community College, Jerri told the judges, “I marinated the pork in San Pellegrino’s Aranciata”. There was a huge chuckle from crowd. She knew where her bread was being buttered, let’s just say.

Not only did she prepare gorgeous food, she’s a smart cookie too! 


And The Winner Is……

The judges choice, Almost Famous Chef Northeast Regional title, was Linnea Shumway, whose training at Paul Smith’s College is finally paying off. Her simple, yet elegant, Chicken with Mirepoix and Mushrooms was the recipe for success, on this magical night. Linnea is headed to Napa, California, for the finals, and we wish her the best of luck!

Almost Famous ChefI Could Have Been A Contender

I am truly in awe of the remarkable focus, poise, and maturity, each of these talented chefs-in-training, bring to the table. If I could only go back in time, I would attend a Culinary School, and perhaps, I could become the next “Almost Famous Chef.”

For now, I’ll start with a knife skills class for beginners. There’s a great one taught by Chef Russell Moss, at 92Y Tribeca and I’m already signed up!

Vicki Winters

Thanks for being my guest on The Vicki Winters Show.

I'm A Food, Travel, Video Blogger with ADHD.

"I'm All Over The Place."

Winters, a Bucket List Boomer has been living life to its fullest.

She can usually be found riding her bike around NYC or on some interesting adventure, somewhere around the globe.

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