Their hands move restlessly, as if playing the piano. Sweat covers their foreheads and they nervously wipe it out in-between the cooking sessions. “I’m sorry I can’t talk right now, but I promise I’ll cook you the best dish when the judges are gone,” one tells me with visibly shaking hands, while putting the finishing touches on his salmon&goetta sausage dish. One extra garnish here, one hot sizzling pan there – the spectacle is on! They are the nine Hyatt chefs who are performing in The Good Taste Series culinary competition. They are determined, focused, fierce.
I admire professional chefs and I never miss an opportunity to watch them work. This is why I was very excited when I was invited to attend the third edition of The Good Taste Series Midwest regional competition, which was hosted by Hyatt Regency McCormick Place last week. A well-established contest organized by Hyatt as a means to support and recognize its culinary talent, The Good Taste Series gave me the chance to observe nine well-seasoned chefs as they created stunning dishes – and to try them all!
The Good Taste Series comprises twelve different regional sessions, and participants compete for the ultimate prize which includes a trophy, a $500 gift card and an all expenses paid trip to the finals in Mexico in the fall. With so much at stake, no wonder the heat was up in kitchen in the Midwest regional round 🙂
The first challenge involved creating a sustainable seafood dish, and here the chefs’ picks were salmon and shrimp, respectively. From spicy salmon ceviche (my favorite this round, served with a delicious jalapeno-dill macaron!) to shrimp two ways, from salmon&goetta sausage to shrimp, spinach&ricotta ravioli and shrimp chilpachole – the creativity was endless!
“Thoughtfully sourced, carefully served” was the general description of the second dish the chefs were asked to create. The courses served and judged during this round included: antelope loin with farro; grilled quail with pistachio, almond milk&goat cheese risotto; chicken adobo satay; roulade of chicken stuffed with chicken mousse. The antelope loin with farro was my favorite dish of the round. The antelope was moist and well-seasoned and was complemented nicely by the good-textured (and fashionable!) farro. Time to use more farro in my cooking!
After the lengthy tasting session, it was decision time for the judges. In third place came Chef Jose Fontanez of Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, who made citrus&dill seared salmon with watercress&roasted parsnip puree and cap steak with chive&horseradish pomme purée. The salmon was one of my favorite dishes of the entire competition: dill-packed and succulent, it stood out to me by delivering mild flavors and a wholesome texture. As for the roasted parsnip puree, I simply couldn’t get enough of it! This is a dish that I will try to replicate at home.
In second place came Chef Brandon Drummond of Grand Hyatt Washington D.C., who made bahn mi cured king salmon with soy pearls and gochujang BBQ bison tenderloin with a summer vegetable salad. The bison was one of the most popular items of the day: tender and perfectly cooked, its flavor exhibited just the right balance between sweetness and heat, thanks to the gochujang (Korean red chili paste). Two outstanding dishes prepared by the Washington-based chef!
The winner of the top spot was Chef Patrick Clark of Hyatt Regency O’Hare, who made fjord salmon tostadas and ancho honey glazed Indiana duck breast with chipotle grits. Grits are one of my all-time favorite comfort foods, and I was pleased to see grits on the menu, and very happy with the way Chef Clark integrated them into the recipe. Spicy yet light thanks to the floral notes of the locally sourced grilled peach and the refreshing bite of the corn relish, the grits delivered layer upon layer of comforting taste and pleasing texture. As for the duck, the heat of the ancho and the sweetness of the honey came together to make it unbelievably flavorful. Overall, this was the perfect example of a “thoughtfully sourced, carefully served” dish.
I had a great time at The Good Taste Series Midwest regional competition and I thoroughly enjoyed the creative processes behind the dishes that were presented. Listening to the chefs’ stories, seeing them work, feeling the thick tension in the air, made me gain a better understanding of the rigors of this job, and also gave me some ideas to work with for my future dishes. The experience definitely helped me become a better cook – not chef, not just yet 🙂
*Disclaimer: I was not financially compensated by Hyatt for this post. All opinions expressed here are my own.