I won the Santa Margherita Great Taste Chicago Challenge! I’ll be heading to NYC in about a month to compete in the Finals.
I’ll try to give a little rundown of how the night went…
When Katie and I arrived at the Signature Room at 5:30, we were turned down and told the event doesn’t start until 6. Katie snappily responded with “no, she’s IN the event.” We called her the soccer mom the rest of the night!
At about 5:45, the other two contestants and I were introduced to the judges (Fabio!) and given a rundown of the logistics. The Signature Room chefs were going to prepare small portions of the dish for the judges and everyone in the audience. We just needed to finish and plate one dish for the demo. They said that John Terlato was going to be the emcee and ask questions throughout each demo.
After that, they showed me my demo station and what had been prepared already. The base of the sauce had been made and the pasta had been cooked; I just had to heat up the sauce, add the marscapone, sear the scallops, and plate the dish.
A couple of glasses of Prosecco later, it was time to be hooked up to a microphone and hit the stage!
Colin Crowley (Executive Chef of Terlato Wines)
Susanna Negovan (Editor and Chief of Michigan Avenue Magazine)
Let me tell you – I have a new respect for people who cook on television. My whole demo was kind of a blur. I remember my sauce was boiling over already when I got up on stage, then I dropped my whisk and tongs, and then Fabio had to step in and turn my scallops for me while I dealt with the sauce. During all of this, I was trying to make sure my microphone was staying in place so people could hear me. My friends told me I didn’t look nervous, but I don’t know if I believe them!
I was relieved that I had to go first so I could relax and watch the other two demos. Andrew Ettenhofer went next and made a chicken roulade with goat cheese and roasted red peppers to pair with the Pinot Grigio. I didn’t actually get to try his dish because I think I was busy blabbing to everyone about how nervous I was in my demo, but people said it was delicious.
Next up was Deborah Kurtzke, who made veal meatballs wrapped in eggplant to pair with the Chianti. I did try her dish and it was quite good, especially with the wine. I got a little nervous!
About 10 minutes after the last demo, each judge did a brief critique on each dish. The only critique I got was from Fabio, who said that I should maybe season the arugula before adding it to the top of the dish. Next time I will! He also said that it’s rare for a home cook to use seafood stock, which I’m not sure is a critique or a complement? However, he then said that it was the kind of dish he would actually cook in his restaurant and that he might need to steal the recipe. I felt pretty confident at this point! Shortly after, they announced me as the winner. I took tons of pictures afterwards, but here are some highlights:
Special thanks to Kate for taking most of the pictures!!