I met the two other finalists when I arrived: Andreann Geise from Myrtle Beach, SC and Deb Kurtze from Schaumburg, IL. They were both super nice and – like me – excited to be there.
We started the day by ordering lunch. The people at Bon Appétit that were with us for the day suggested we share a bunch of things, so we had a quite a feast: José Andrés' JLT with Jamón Serrano and Manchego, Tom Douglas' Rub with Love King Salmon Sandwich, Rick Bayless' Skirt Steak Salad with Avocado and Chile Lime Dressing, Rick Bayless' Creamy Corn Soup with Ham, Tom Douglas' Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons, and Nancy Olson's Pumpkin Whoopie Pie. The JLT, corn soup, and whoopie pie were the standouts for me, but it was all fantastic!
Gina DePalma, cookbook author and pastry chef at Babbo, took the stage after lunch. She demonstrated how to make a zabaglione, which is made by beating egg yolks, sugar, and red wine. The whole process looked a little exhausting, but the end result (which we thankfully got to try) was delicious. Small portions were passed around with a little piece of hazelnut cake.
After Gina DePalma’s demo, Cat Cora sat down at the table next to us for a pre-demo meeting. Katie and I tried our best to not stare, but we couldn’t wait to meet her! The Bon Appétit and Santa Margherita people had her come over to meet us and take pictures after her meeting. I had always thought she looked intimidating on television, but she turned out to be one of the nicest people I have ever met. She’s also very tiny in person! Eventually, she had to pull away from all of the pictures so she could get up on stage and do her cooking demonstration. She energetically showed everyone how to make her skirt steak tacos with shitake mushroom salsa.
Fabio Viviani arrived shortly after Cat Cora’s demo. He did a demonstration of his gorgonzola-stuffed, pancetta wrapped shrimp over herbed polenta and baby spinach. Sadly, they did not give out samples of his dish. I’m definitely going to try the recipe though; it looked and smelled phenomenal!
Preparations for the Santa Margherita Great Taste Challenge begin after all of the demos were over. They took a lot of professional pictures (which I hope to get a hold of at some point), but – for now – I’ll have to post the pictures my friends and I took.
The judges for the event were Fabio (again), Jacob Falleni (Fabio’s business partner at Café Firenze), Bill Terlato (President & CEO of Terlato Wines), and Barbara Fairchild (editor in chief of Bon Appétit magazine). I was personally terrified to cook in front of Barbara Fairchild. I always see her as a judge on Iron Chef, so I almost didn’t want to know what she thought about my food! That said, I was extremely excited to meet her.
Some of my friends in New York came to cheer me on :). We had some Prosecco while waited for everything to be setup.
My demo was first. Fabio and Bill Terlato first gave a brief introduction of themselves, the judges, and the competition to the audience. I nervously waited on stage behind them as Katie kept signaling to me to smile!
Here are some pictures of my actual demonstration. I had some difficulties at first because my pan wasn’t getting hot enough and I couldn’t melt the butter. I only had 10 minutes to demonstrate my dish from start to finish, so this was a bit of a challenge. Everyone was standing around me trying to figure out how to get the fancy touch-screen stovetop to get hotter. Once we figured it out, the rest went fairly smoothly. Fabio’s chattiness helped ease my nerves!
Finalist Deb Kurtzke went next with her Glazed Pork over Mango Couscous. The last finalist, Andreann Geise, cooked Mint, Fig, and Chianti Glazed Lamb with Spaghetti in a Lemon Chianti Cream Sauce. Their recipes (along with mine) are posted on the Santa Margherita Great Taste Challenge website. They were both amazing, so I knew this would be a tough competition.
I was SO nervous when it was time for the judge’s critique and the final decision. They announced that Andreann’s lamb dish with the Chianti won. I can’t say I wasn’t a little bit bummed, but I really can’t complain because I had an amazing time and met some incredible people. I hope they’ll let me enter again next year!