Chef challenges are nothing new to those who love TV shows like “Top Chef” and “Iron Chef,” but it’s not every day one comes to San Antonio.
OK, well, that’s not exactly true, since “Top Chef” spread a lot of love around this city last year.
But that show features kitchen veterans, those who have been calling the shots in their own restaurant kitchens. On Monday, four rising chefs, representing culinary schools in Texas and Louisiana, got the chance to compete for the title of Almost Famous Chef of South Central United States and the chance to got to Napa, Calif., for the finals.
The competition, sponsored by Acqua Panna and S. Pellegrino, was held in the kitchens of the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio campus and offered people a chance to see all the work that goes into preparing a full meal in a two-hour time frame.
Three of the contestants were from Louisiana. Erin Williams and Joshua Williams were both from Delgado Community College in Reserve, La., while Paul Terrebonne was from the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute of Nicholls State University in Thibodeaux, La. Michael Andrew Gibson was from the International Culinary School of the Art Institute of Dallas.
Each had to prepare a meal while several panels of judges asked questions, sampled sauces and watched their technique.
So, while the four diligently chopped mushrooms, carrots, brussels sprouts and even that New Orleans favorite, mirliton, they talked about their family influences, such as Joshua Williams’ grandmother, who made a vast array of gumbos in a cast-iron skillet, or Erin Williams, who talked about her five kids and what joy they bring to her. Gibson talked about the billi-bi sauce he made from mussels, white wine, onions and cream, while Terrebone gave a list of reasons why the Abita Amber makes a better rice in his dish than the Abita IPA or the Restoration beer.
In the end, Terrebone won the right to advance to Napa, where he could win up to $22,000 and an apprenticeship with a master chef. His dish was Pan-Roasted Snapper with a Pickled Slaw, Corn Maque Choux Purée and Abita Beer Rice. (For recipe, click here.)
The cook, who spoke so smoothly about his culinary experience in front of the judges and a dinner party of guests, was left speechless by the award. He was confident in his cooking, he said, but winning was a surprise. “I don’t know what I’m feeling right now,” he said, showing off his trophy, a prize skillet.
Chef judges for the event included Jason Dady of Bin 555 and Tre among other restaurants, Steven McHugh of Lüke and Kent Rathbun of Abacus and more in Dallas, Austin and many another Texas town, except San Antonio. (“I want to come here,” he said. But the right deal hasn’t presented itself.) Media judges included Terry Scott Bertling of the Express-News, Michele McMurry of San Antonio Taste, and Bonnie Walker and me from SavorSA.