At Jan. 23’s regional competition of the S.Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition, eight culinary students from all over the northeast United States cooked up one signature dish in a timed cook-off, presented their dishes to a group of judges including top chefs and food writers, and at the end of the night one chef-in-training, Linnea Shumway from Paul Smith’s College, walked away the winner, and will be moving on to compete in the Nationals in Napa Valley, Calif.
The competition started more than 10 years ago, and is focused on highlighting some of the country’s top talent through a series of regional competitions. As opposed to just judging the dishes served, however, judges are encouraged to provide constructive criticism and mentor the chefs, and their instructors are there beside them as they cook to offer support and feedback.
Several years ago, noted Chicago chef Tony Mantuano (of Spiaggia fame) joined on as spokesman and chief mentor, and was on hand last night to cheer the competitors on.
"This is one of the most unique experiences a student can have," Mantuano told The Daily Meal. "The more that chefs are trained, the more successful they’ll be, and to have the opportunity to serve their food to great chefs and get feedback is so helpful. I wish I had something like this when I was a student."
We sampled a wide variety of offerings from some truly great young culinary talent, including a roast venison loin stuffed with tofu, shiso, and pine nuts from ICE’s June Im; soy-braised shortribs from ICC’s Yong Shim; a pan-smoked salmon fillet from the Academy of Culinary Arts’ Joseph Mikitish; and an adventurous plate of stuffed shishito pepper, hot and sour soup shooter, scallop, shrimp, and okonomiyaki from the CIA’s Matthew Taylor Grunwald, which guests voted as their favorite.
But the judges deemed the dish served by chef Linnea Shumway, from the small Paul Smith’s College, the finest of the evening. A chicken breast was stuffed with a "forcemeat" of thigh meat, shiitake mushroom, and shallot, served atop carrot purée, in a sauce of celeriac, parsnip, and shallot. Judges agreed that it was well-seasoned, not too heavy, and the chicken was juicy, and named her the winner. She will go on to compete in the National Finals in Napa.
"I just had trust in myself and the dish," she said after being told of her win. "Thankfully it turned out all right."
Dan Myers is the Eat/Dine Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @sirmyers.