Food fight

Published 1:00 pm Saturday, April 27, 2013

Sam McLeod, along with chef Jack Baker, won the first Alabama's Best Chef contest Thursday at Wind Creek.

Sam McLeod, along with chef Jack Baker, won the first Alabama’s Best Chef contest Thursday at Wind Creek.

After a grueling day of competitive cooking by visiting chefs, judges for the first ever Alabama’s Best Chef contest, hosted by Wind Creek Casino and Hotel, chose a winner from a group of cooks known across the state for their culinary specialties.

Working with a base dish of gulf coast mackerel, chefs from Birmingham to Orange Beach added their own special touches to their culinary creations in an effort to claim the first best chef prize.

This year’s winners — Jack Baker, corporate chef at Cobalt restaurant Cosmos bar, and Sam McLeod, executive chef with Cobalt, both in Orange Beach — said they were proud to be the first to bring home the prize.

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“We are here just wanting to put on a good show and represent and put something out there that we are proud of,” Baker said. “We’re obviously happy to have won, but it’s more about making a good dish.”

Baker and McLeod actually won using a combination of three dishes: a sashimi style dish; smoked mackerel cake, using C&D grits from Cantonment, Fla.; and an olive oil dish.

“I am thrilled to be named Alabama’s Best Chef,” Baker said. “But I have to say this was a kitchen full of winners. I was awed by the talent here today. These are truly some of the best chefs in Alabama, and for that matter, any place else. I watched masters at work and I just wish I could have eaten what they cooked.”

Second place went to Wesley True for his dish, while third prize winner Leo Maurelli impressed the judges with his Spanish mackerel creation.
Wind Creek Specialty Chef Jay Norris said the competition was a huge success.

“We are so proud to have had all of these guys,” Norris said. “We gave them a Spanish mackerel dish to work with and everything else was up to the chef. We wanted them to use their creativity.”

All three judges for the competition said choosing a winner was even tougher than they had expected.

“I cannot imagine a more extravagant day with the state’s finest chefs,” said Tasia Malakasis, who owns Belle Chevre, an award-winning cheese producer in Elkmont, Ala. “The final decision was overwhelmingly difficult and the creativity of everyone who competed was inspiring.”

Chef Sara Horowitz, who has been featured on the Fox television show “Hell’s Kitchen,” also said the choice was a difficult one to make.

“These chefs were nothing short of phenomenal,” Horowitz said. “They were beyond talented. You can taste the pride.”

Norris said he is already looking ahead to next year’s event.

“What a great day,” he said. “Today’s events more than exceeded my expectations and I think everyone who cooks and eats in Alabama has a lot to be proud of. I am already planning next year’s event.”