Chefs seek bragging rights at Wind Creek

Published 10:45 am Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Michael Ty, president of the American Culinary Foundation, standing, left, was joined by other judges to choose the best dishes during the Chef’s Challenge at Wind Creek Casino & Hotel this week. Shown with Ty are Rene Marquis, certified executive chef with the U.S. Army and Bernard Urban, certified executive chef and a member of the American Academy of Chefs.|Photo by Lisa Tindell

With student and professional chefs taking over the cooking classroom at Wind Creek Casino & Hotel Monday and Tuesday, the aromas of freshly prepared desserts and entrees filled the air in the Poarch community this week.

Chef Stafford DeCambra, Wind Creek’s head chef, said 20 competitors were vying for a title tied to culinary excellence in the American Culinary Foundation-sanctioned event.

“We had 18 professional chefs, including myself, participating in the challenge event,” DeCambra said. “There were two student chefs competing in the challenge.”

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DeCambra said the Monday presentations were a “feast for the eyes” as competitors presented their best work in the cold salon event.

“We had ice sculptures, chocolate pieces, pastiage’ work, large wedding cakes — all designed as pieces of art,” DeCambra said. “It was beautiful and everyone knows you begin eating with your eyes.”

Not only were the presentations pleasing to the eye, DeCambra’s creations must have also been pleasing to the palate.

A panel of professional judges deemed DeCambra’s work worthy of two gold medals. His work also earned him the Best of Show award.

“I did a full-on Hawaiian theme,” DeCambra said. “The cold salon event is a fun event and showcases so much talent.”

In Tuesday’s portion of the competition, chefs were required to show their skills to the judges by preparing four different entrees in a one-hour timeframe.

“Four entrees in an hour, made from scratch is a big job,” DeCambra said. “The chefs have to do everything from scratch in front of the judges to show their skill. The focus was fowl and each competitor brought in a whole chicken and had to fabricate the whole bird into their menu choice and prepare it in front of the judges. Not only do judges score competitors on their skill, but flavor, taste and presentation is all considered as the score each chef.”

Chef Rene Marquis, certified executive chef with the U.S. Army, one of four judges in Tuesday’s competition, said being a gold medal winner is a given for each contestant but can be lost quickly.

“Everyone comes in a gold medal holder,” Marquis said. “Keeping the gold is up to them. For every mistake they make, points are deducted. Being a winner is up to them.”

DeCambra said the first chef’s challenge has been a success and was well received.

“We are so pleased with the support we’ve received since this is our first time hosting this event,” DeCambra said. “We had competitors to drive eight, 12 or 14 hours to come to this event. Our student chef’s came from Tallahassee, Fla., and North Carolina. To come that far to this event is a big show of support.”

DeCambra said visitors and guest judges have also shown positive response and a promise of support for future events.

“We’ve had a lot of people interested in this competition and they came out to see and experience the competition,” DeCambra said. “The judges have been pleased with the event and we hope to keep this competition going here at Wind Creek.”

Other judges Tuesday included, Michael Ty, president of the American Culinary Foundation; Bernard Urban, certified executive chef and a member of the American Academy of Chefs; Larry Matson, chef/instructor at the International Culinary School of the Arts Institute; Patrick Mitchell executive chef/culinary advisor at Ben E. Keith Culinary School and Tom McCrana, chairman of the Gastronomical Society.