Winning big at the World Food Championships
Last week, the largest food sporting event in the world occurred in Dallas, Texas.
The World Food Championships (WFC) is a multi-day culinary competition that has more than 1,500 contestants, including professional chefs and home cooks from 42 states and 12 countries, competing against each other for prizes totaling over $350,000. Each contestant must win a qualifying event earlier in the year for a spot to compete in one of 10 categories: Bacon, Barbecue, Burger, Chef, Chili, Dessert, Recipe, Sandwich, Seafood, or Steak.
I have qualified and competed at WFC for the past three years, and earlier this year I was honored, once again, to qualify with a first-place win in the Taste of America Challenge featuring my Thai-Riffic Chicken and Shrimp Naan Pizzas.
At WFC, each head chef is allowed up to two sous chefs at the competition to help lead their team to victory. And this year, as in years past, I was accompanied by Rich Tretheway, one of Block Island’s finest culinary experts.
Rich and I met when we were 13 years old. We worked together at Ernie’s and Finn’s for over 12 years and Rich — following his gastronomic entrepreneurial spirit — went on to open Sharkey’s in 1995. He and his wife, Patty, owned and managed that landmark restaurant for the next 17 years.
So, it was natural for Rich to join the Dish off the Block team at WFC given our long-term friendship and his expertise in the kitchen. We have also benefited from our ‘pit crew’ of Patty Tretheway and my husband, Nick, who served as photographers, runners, and our biggest cheerleaders during what is a very high-energy and somewhat stressful competition.
Each category at WFC begins with an opening round where each team makes one required dish (Structured Round) and one chef’s choice dish (Signature Round). I qualified in the ‘Recipe’ category and the required dish was a vegan variation. A lot of time and preparation goes into choosing and practicing the dishes each team will make in the months before the competition. After much preparation and recipe development, we decided on Vegan Pad Thai Palooza for our vegan dish and Herb Crusted Chilean Sea Bass over Parmesan Spring Risotto topped with Arugula Salad for our signature dish. We had perfected each recipe so that we would have both dishes completed within the two hour time limit.
But practicing in the kitchen at home is much different from the tense atmosphere of WFC and a countdown clock ticking. We finished both dishes with seconds to spare, but were thrilled with the execution. To advance, we needed to make the top 10 in our categories. Scores were announced, and even with a 93.8765, we did not advance.
But wait. It was not over! The next highest scoring 20 teams across all categories would compete in a Super Qualifier round in a chicken wing battle for a Golden Ticket to the 2020 Competition, $1,000, and a ZGrill and Wood Smoker. Game on!
I happened to have had a winning recipe in my back pocket. My Finger Lickin’ Spicy Sweet Chicken recipe had won competitions before, so I knew this recipe would take it all. With just one and-a-half hours to complete the recipe, we nailed it. These wings were deep fried in a light batter and glazed with an apricot sriracha sauce like no other.
At the awards ceremony that night, sitting at the back of the room in anticipation, the emcee’s banter about the festivities of the day seemed to last forever. Rich and I were ready to hear the results. And then... finally... third, second, and victory! Dish off the Block took home first prize in the Super Qualifier round.
That means team DotB is invited back to WFC next year and we can’t wait to go back and take it all. Until then, we are looking for taste testers on Block Island in the coming months… any takers?