The answer to the question, "Where's the beef?" turned out to be at the Sandy South Towne Expo Center. Before the Nicholas & Company-sponsored 2009 Ultimate Chef Challenge had concluded, I and my fellow judges had sampled 22 different dishes, all of which incorporated USDA Prime beef in one form or another. If I see another plate of carpaccio or tartare this year, I might lose my mind, not to mention my lunch. Huge, uncut hunks of USDA prime was the secret ingredient the four teams of chefs competing in the Ultimate Chef Challenge had to work with -- creating a minimum of four dishes each and up to six.
Here, Lugano chef/owner Greg Neville tackles a big hunk o' meat. He paired up with Lugano chef di cucina Wyatt Jones to compete against the Cafe Trio and Fresco team of Mikel Trapp, Matt Carlson and Billy Sotelo; Talisker's John Murcko and Clement Gelas; and defending Ultimate Chef champions Franck Peissel and Adam Vickers of Franck's and Tuscany restaurants.
Frankly, I thought any one of the talented teams could have won the competition. I hated to see any lose; the dishes and demonstration of kitchen skill, creativity and technique were so extraordinary. But, when the smoke (literally) cleared, the Talisker team had won the day, edging out the others perhaps with their innovative presentations, like a star anise and chive consomme served in what I was calling a flying saucer bowl.
Congratulations to ALL of the hardworking chefs, their staffs and the culinary students who participated in the Nicholas & Company's 2009 Ultimate Chef Competition. You're all winners in my book.