by Kat Robinson
That's one of the things that keeps bringing me back each year to Diamond Chef. The competition between Arkansas chefs is never boring. I've watched the brightest stars of the restaurant scene in Central Arkansas vy for the chance to knock off each previous year's top dog as it were. Last year I chronicled not only the culling of the field of contestants from eight to two in March, I went back a few months later for the grand final to see Chef Daniel Capello emerge victorious.
This year's competition kicks off Wednesday at 2 p.m. Sure, I do plan to cover the event as always, but I also encourage you to come watch a bit of it for yourself. There's a really charged air about things as these chefs create startling new dishes from a slate of surprise ingredients.
And the ingredients... wow. I've seen skate (it's a sort of fish), kangaroo, snake... different sorts of beef cuts... kohlrabi, peanut butter, passion fruit, chayotes... no one knows what they'll be picking up when they open the boxes containing their secret ingredients. That's a good part of the fun.
It's free to view the heats. You can bid on silent auction items that include — I kid you not — your chance to eat one of the dishes prepared by our chefs. And if you can't stay for the whole thing, no big deal — the first heats begin at 2 p.m. and the last won't wrap up until after 7 p.m. So come on down to the Peabody Hotel lobby Wednesday.
The official release, on the jump.
LITTLE ROCK- Chef Daniel Capello hopes to keep his title as Diamond Chef Arkansas for a second year in a row when the preliminary competitions heat up on March 2. The preliminary competitions take place 2-7 p.m. in the Peabody Hotel Lobby and are free to the public.
The competition begins with several rounds of preliminary cook-offs to select Chef Capello's opponent for the Diamond Chef Arkansas finale on June 7. Diamond Chef Arkansas, sponsored by the Pulaski Technical College Foundation, follows the format of the popular "Iron Chef" television series.
This year six Arkansas chefs are vying for a chance to advance to the final round against Chef Capello. For the preliminary competitions, chefs are presented a mystery basket of ingredients and given 40 minutes plus the help of one sous chef to prepare a dish using all the ingredients.
The six chefs will compete in three heats throughout the afternoon in the Peabody lobby, with the ultimate winner advancing to the final event.
This year's competitors include Jamie McAfee, executive chef at the Pine Bluff Country Club; Paul Clinton, executive chef at YaYa's Euro Bistro; Cindy East, lead instructor at the Pulaski Technical College Arkansas Culinary School; Brian Kerns, executive chef of the Country Club of Little Rock; Jacob Peck, chef at Forty-Two in the Clinton Presidential Library; and Jeremy Reeves, chef at Fox Ridge Estates.
"All of this year's competitors are very capable and very talented chefs," said Monte Hansen, general manager of the Peabody Hotel Little Rock and co-chair of Diamond Chef Arkansas along with Mary Morton. "Any one of them could be the next Diamond Chef, which will make the competition even more exciting."
Capello, who has been executive chef at the Chenal Country Club since 2009, has been cooking professionally for two decades. Before moving to Arkansas, the Texas native was an executive chef at several Houston restaurants, as well as for the corporate dining facility of British Petroleum. He's one of just a handful of chefs in the state who have earned the American Culinary Federation's Certified Executive Chef designation.
"It's all in good fun," Chef Capello said of the friendly competition. "We're raising money for a great cause while doing something we love to do."
The Diamond Chef Finale on June 7 is a ticketed event at the Statehouse Convention Center's Wally Allen Ballroom. Attendees will enjoy a three-course dinner while watching the live, fast-paced competition. Chef Capello and his opponent will have one hour to create a three-course meal using a mystery ingredient announced just before the start of competition. Tickets are $150 per person and can be purchased by calling Yvette Henton, special events officer, at (501) 812-2271, e-mail email@example.com.
Pulaski Technical College is a comprehensive, two-year college that serves the educational needs of central Arkansas through more than 90 occupational/technical degree and certificate programs, a university-transfer curriculum and specialized programs for business and industry.
The college's mission is to provide access to high quality education that promotes student learning, to enable individuals to develop to their fullest potential and to support the economic development of the state.