Chef Dontre'al Haigler Brings Berries Center Stage for the California Giant Berry Farms Chef Invitational

Tue. August 23rd, 2022 - by Chandler James

SPARTANBURG, SC - Berries and seafood on one plate? Sign me up! Dontre’al Haigler, Product Development Chef at Denny's, created one such dish for the California Giant Berry Farms Chef Invitational, and my interest is piqued. I had the chance to catch up with this expert chef ahead of the event.

Dontre'al Haigler, Product Development Chef, Denny's“Events such as the Chef Invitational give chefs like me a chance to play outside the box of our daily lives,” Dontre’al told me. “It also allows us to look at trends with a more open eye, because there are no rules when it comes to events like this.”

For the competition, Dontre’al created the California Giant Berry Meets the Sea—a stuffed lobster tail wrapped with crispy pancetta and served over a pool of sweet drunken blue and blackberry vinaigrette.

“I was inspired by the Produce Marketing Association Foodservice Conference and Expo in 2019, where I had the chance to experience some of the freshest berries and seafood I’ve ever tasted,” explained Dontre’al. “With this recipe, I wanted to show respect to all of the farmers and fishermen I get the chance to meet.”

For the competition, Chef Dontre’al Haigler created the California Giant Berry Meets the Sea—a stuffed lobster tail wrapped with crispy pancetta and served over a pool of sweet drunken blue and blackberry vinaigrette

Dontre’al has combined his love and appreciation for produce with a strong foundation of foodservice knowledge. He graduated from The Art’s Intuitions of Charleston in 2015 and then worked for a local university for about eight months, focusing on deli, pizza, and burger production; various international fairs; and catering events. In 2016, he started working at Denny’s Corporation as an Assistant Product Development Chef, and after several successful LTO and Core menu items was promoted to a full-time Development Chef last summer.

“It’s crazy because when I started my career, all I wanted to do was cook something amazing and have a few people try it. After becoming a member of this amazing team here at Denny’s, my goals in life really made a 180,” Dontre’al divulged. “Now, I’m just trying to be another example for little kids to see that if you keep your head down and stay true to yourself, you can make it in this crazy world we call life.”

Chef Dontre’al has combined his love and appreciation for produce with a strong foundation of foodservice knowledge

On a final note, I asked Dontre’al about the importance of bringing fresh produce to the center of the plate.

“It’s all about showing love to the farmers. Without them, there will be no fresh produce. They’ve spent years and years perfecting their art by improving the land and providing the country with some amazing produce,” he stated. “Also, fresh produce gives the plate such a burst of freshness that helps give your dish a different level of complexity.”

This trade news writer will certainly have her eyes on the California Giant Berry Meets the Sea come August 31, just as you should keep your eyes on this rising culinary talent.