The trickle of sweat started to run down the side of his temple as he leaned over to finish plating his 15th serving but he ignored it. I was watching one of the ten finalists of the S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef competition compete in Napa at the Culinary Institute of America, Greystone. That particular student, chef Jean-Christophe Comtois of École hôtelière de la Capitale, had less than five minutes until he had to serve his dish to an esteemed panel of judges that included Chef Rick Moonen of RM Seafood, Chef Mark McEwan of One, Chef Michel Richard of Citronelle, Chef Tony Mantuano of Spiaggia, Chef Susur Lee of Lee restaurant, and Chef Joho of Everest, as well as Betsy Andrews editor of Saveur magazine, Dana Cowin of Food and Wine magazine, Jacob Richler of Maclean’s Magazine, Sophie Gayot of Gayot.com and Mitchell Davis of The James Beard Foundation.
As competitors (no, I won’t use the word cheftestants) performed under the intense pressure of having to make 15 servings of a dish from the mystery box of unknown ingredients (it was cod, shrimp, mussels and clams) in under two hours I marveled at how calm most of them seemed. In the end, after the grueling three-day competition, the winner, Kristin Thibeault from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Boston, won both the People’s choice as well as the overall competition with her Porcini crust vegan “sweetbreads” in the signature dish category. It turns out that she was the first vegan, mom and cancer survivor to win the 11 year old competition. Comtois, the student that I noticed sweating while plating his food, won the mystery box competition. However every student in the competition was a winner by not only making it to the competition but cooking like rock stars while everyone (myself included) took pictures and watched their every movement as the judges did what they did best – judge their food. Almost famous indeed.
Special thanks to S. Pellegrino and Salt Communications for inviting me up to experience a day of the Almost Famous Chef Competition. Though transportation and a day press pass to experience the event were provided by S. Pellegrino, I was not monetarily compensated for this post and all opinions are my own.