‘Food is my theater’: Cincinnati chef wins Food Network’s Ultimate Thanksgiving Challenge – The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Christian Gill’s mother and grandma taught him the importance of patience and how to cook at a young age. His love for cooking led him to find his “magic” and appear on Food Network’s Ultimate Thanksgiving Challenge in November. 

The 31-year-old executive chef and co-owner of Pendleton’s Boomtown Biscuits and Whiskey was one of six national chefs selected to compete in the $25,000 cook-off. In the season finale — which aired Nov. 24 — Gill was challenged to create a Thanksgiving feast in three hours and named the winner. 

“I couldn’t believe that I had won,” Gill said. “I was given an 18-20 pound fresh turkey that I had to cook in three hours. A lot of people say that’s impossible. But you really can do it. It was stressful though. I knew it was doable, it just depended on the manner that it was cooked. There was no slow cooking process.”

Over the course of four weeks, the contestants reinvented a classic Thanksgiving side, created an entire holiday spread and transformed a low-cost item into an extraordinary appetizer. 

Gill, a Lexington, Kentucky, native, said he specializes in holiday classics and comfort food dishes during the challenges. He said it was always nerve-wracking presenting the dishes to the judges. 

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Judges Carla Hall, Christian Petroni and Alex Guarnaschelli sampled contestants’ dishes before sending a chef home after each round of challenges. 

“I’m my own worst critic,” Gill said. “Every time I cook — it’s terrifying. I still worry every single time I have to present a plate to the judges. I take every ounce of constructive criticism to heart. It helps me cook better.” 

Cooking has become his “magic”

Gill incorporates theater elements into his dishes. 

“Food has become my theater,” he said. “Chefs are the ones preparing the rehearsals, writing the screenplays, and putting on the show. This is Showbiz for me. (Food) plating is creating the perfect stage for the primadonna to dance on. There’s a lot of magic I’m trying to create.” 

This isn’t Gill’s first time appearing or winning on the Food Network. In 2015, he beat out the competition on Guy’s Grocery Games. He was also a contestant on Guy’s Big Project and made a second appearance on Guy’s Grocery Games. 

“The Thanksgiving Ultimate Challenge was my fourth appearance on the Food Network,” Gill said. “I never thought I would be on TV cooking. I always knew — with my theater background — that I wanted to provide some element of drama with the food that I created and served people. The Food Network provided me the opportunity to do just that.”

Gill doesn’t know if he will enter another cook-off competition but knows his love for cooking isn’t going anywhere. 

“I do my best to create a drama, comedy or tragedy,” he said. “I want every plate to have a purpose. Sometimes it’s just a one-act play. I can create everything from a small bite dish to an elaborate nine-course meal. I tell different stories with them.”

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