happily judging future chefs of cleveland

Rest assured, Cleveland. We are going to be eating well for years to come.

Last week, I had the privilege and honor of judging the 2010 Culinary Challenge to benefit the  Tri-C Hospitality Management Program with Michael Ruhlman and Doug Trattner. I honestly don’t know who was more excited – all the young chefs or myself, sitting between these two!

The event was held in the new Tri-C Hospitality Center at Public Square which took over the first floor of the May Co. building. If you have the opportunity, do yourself a favor and go tour the center. This is truly an impressive space, complete with state-of-the-art kitchens (even chef Karen Small oohed and aahed over the appliances and other offerings), classrooms and more. I was inspired walking around and even joked that I wanted to enroll tomorrow (only to learn later that you can actually just take a variety of cooking classes versus earning a degree).

Obviously, there’s a lot happening within our city and the food scene continues to explode. Chefs and others in the food scene want to be a part of the excitement and this center right in the heart of downtown is exactly what Cleveland needs. And as I walked around and talked to these incredibly enthusiastic chefs, it was clear that they had no intentions of leaving Cleveland post graduation.

And helping them stay here is chef Brandt Evans who is opening Pura Vida directly next store. Though his restaurant is not part of Tri-C, there are a lot of synergies that he explained to me as he gave us a tour of the future space (more on this in a later post). But Evans did say (with a lot of passion and determination) that we need to work with and turn them over to other area restaurants and grow these students to ultimately keep them local because, as he explained, that is half the battle

While I was impressed with many items throughout the evening, of course it was the actual judging that was my favorite part (minus eating in front of a crowd). And can you think of better company to spend an evening noshing with than my two fellow judges? The 45-minute culinary challenge paired student chefs with area mentors, including chefs Doug Katz, Karen Small, Andy Dombrowski and Jonathan Bennett, who shared that he’s in the process of opening another restaurant, conveniently located next to Moxie and Red – and unAmericanized Italian eatery to be called Rosso (red in Italian). The four teams each had to prepare a dish where the feature ingredient was duck. We judged each dish on a variety of things, most importantly being taste, presentation and use of local ingredients.

In all honestly, I would have gladly paid money for any of these dishes. And am actually a bit sad that I can’t. Talk about future talent. We all thoroughly enjoyed each team’s dish – a very impressive group indeed. I realize it sounds cliché, but every team deserved to win. These were some seriously good eats we were fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to sample. The future chefs behind these savory duck dishes were:

Amanda Siegfried / Krista Gagyi / A.J. Kosik / Jonathon Bennett, mentor chef

James Williams / Kelly Sparks / Steven Kubit / Andy Dombrowski, mentor chef

Kelly Wilcox-Baird / Victoria Grace Bigler / Maryanne Hagans / Doug Katz, mentor chef

Tracy Sullivan / Peggy Cruz / Thomas Hathaway / Karen Small, mentor chef


The winning menu (Team Katz): Two-Buck Chuck Duck- Crispy duck breast stuffed with Chevre, Spinach and Cream Cheese. Resting on a bed of oven roasted seasoned Parsnips and Carrots, browned Thyme Gnocchi and topped with Spinach sautéed with Duck Fat and Shallots. Accented with Charles Shaw Shiraz Wine and Cranberry reduction sauce.

The challenge itself was hosted by Positively Cleveland in an effort to generate financial support for its Spirit of Cleveland, which engages in the creation, coordination, development and operation of a job service training curriculum and program for the hospitality and tourism industries.

For a second year, Positively Cleveland partnered with Cuyahoga Community College to host The Cleveland Culinary Challenge.  Created in 2009, the proceeds help support a paid work experience program for Tri-C’s Hospitality Management students.

Once again, a mighty congratulations future chefs! You have a hungry city awaiting your graduation and future employment at one of our many wonderful local restaurants.

(Thanks to Positively Cleveland for sharing images and especially chef Doug Katz for inviting me to judge.)


  1. Posted November 10, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Oh to be in your shoes for this one. It’s exciting to see the investment in the future of Cleveland’s culinary scene by the city’s educational institution as well as its many talented chefs.

  2. Helen Catino
    Posted November 11, 2010 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    I wish I could have been there to taste it all.Those young chefs are probably better chefs than I and I have been cooking for 45 years. My nephew is one of your chefs and I am proud of him- way to go A.J.

  3. Mia
    Posted November 11, 2010 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Hi Michelle, I’ve been enjoying your blog! I’m not a fan of that show “Man vs. Food” but I thought I’d share this – Adam Richman’s comment about the Cleveland food scene: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/40089842/ns/today-foodwine/

  4. Posted November 11, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Hey Michelle! It was great chatting with you and your husband after the competition. I posted a link to your blog from my personal and my company’s (The Design Market) Facebook pages. Check it out.



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