Culinary talents square off at Worcesters Best Chef – Worcester Telegram

Restaurant News

WORCESTER – A week before the Super Bowl, the Central Massachusetts culinary scene was holding its own championship Sunday night at Mechanics Hall.

On another level, the annual Worcester’s Best Chef competition, now in its 13th year, is a celebration of an industry on the rise, according to some at the event.

“I’ve witnessed the transformation of the hospitality industry taking hold,” said Josh Suprenant, director of hospitality at Samuel Slater’s in Webster. Professional cooking today, he said, is not about feeding diners “mass-produced food – it’s an art form. And it takes a very serious skill set.”

Samuel Slater’s executive chef, Keith Polaina, proved his expertise in the kitchen by coming in first in the Judge’s Choice Awards, earning him a spot in the competition’s Iron Chef round against deadhorse hill’s Mike Wenc and Flying Rhino’s Drew Day. Day took top honors in that contest.

Polaina impressed judges with a slow-roasted duck confit paired with Brussels sprout slaw and fig and hoisin sauce, to no surprise to his colleague in Samuel Slater’s kitchen, Bill Walmsley.

“We were nervous coming in,” Walmsley said, but also confident in Polaina’s abilities. “He brings a lot of passion to the table.”

Earlier at the event, the judges awarded the competition’s Perfect Palate award to Robin Clark of Bocado, who said her entry – no-cheese cheesecake with gingerbread granola, cranberry compote and maple balsamic drizzle – was an easy choice.

“I have it at the restaurant right now, and everyone loves it,” she said. “I figured I’d better try it for the competition.”

Compared to the relatively isolated workplace they’re used to, chefs found Sunday’s contest an opportunity to work in a uniquely visible environment, Clark said.

“It’s fun; it’s different,” she said. “It’s a chance to interact with people, because as a chef you’re always in the kitchen.”

The competition also provides an avenue for aspiring chefs to work with some of the city’s best. This year, culinary students at Bay Path Regional Vocational Technical High School, Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School and Tantasqua Regional High School shadowed competing chefs and entered their own creations in a contest for best student dessert. Tantasqua took first place.

Winners of the People’s Choice Award were: first place, Comeketo Brazilian Steakhouse in Leominster; second, Rail Trail Flatbread Co. in Hudson; and third, Cohasse Country Club in Southbridge.

As usual, this year’s outing drew a big crowd, with about 1,200 to 1,300 people sampling food from participating restaurants. 

Judges this year were Steven Blair and George Malavasic of Johnson & Wales University, Denny Corriveau of The Wild Chef, Peter Eco of Sonoma, Barbara Houle of the Telegram & Gazette’s Table Hoppin’  and Jim Nicas of Castle Restaurant.


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