California Giant Berry Farms Announces 3rd Annual Chef Invitational Winners
- by Chandler James
WATSONVILLE, CA - Chefs are a critical step in getting consumers interested in fresh produce, especially if they’re seeing that produce presented in fresh (get it?) and exciting ways. For California Giant Berry Farms, this strategy has been at the forefront of its Chef Invitational, a culinary competition that highlights the industry’s finest.
“Although we had to adapt our in-person event into a virtual competition, we are encouraged by the incredible work that went into this and the amazing results with the People’s Choice voting online,” said Tom Smith, Director of Foodservice and Organic Sales, California Giant Berry Farms. “I am pleased that our California Giant Berry Farms Chef Invitational continues to garner more awareness for the brand and highlight the amazing talent from within the foodservice industry.”
According to a press release, this year’s Top Chef winner was awarded to Chef Sam Blackburn of Sodexo North America.
For the competition, Chef Blackburn created a Pan-Seared Pacific Halibut with Pickled Strawberries and Fermented Blueberry Bacon Fried Quinoa and Blackberry Mushroom Sauté. Voted against the criteria of best overall appearance, flavor and taste appeal, creativity, use of ingredients, and utilization of berries, the judges agreed that Chef Blackburn’s dish used berries in the most unique way. (I’m salivating from the description alone.)
“What I love about this dish is that everything about it is outside of the box. The heat from the chili pepper beautifully awakens the whole dish, and it goes so well with the tanginess of the fermented blueberries,” said cookbook author, Marie Reginato, who recreated each of the six finalist’s dishes with video and photo components used on the competition website and social media platforms.
In addition to the prestigious title of Top Chef, the six chef finalists had the chance to win the People’s Choice vote, as Smith alluded to above. The website received an overwhelming response to this voting option with over 93,000 total votes.
The winner of the People’s Choice award went to Bill Barker of Markon/Gordon Foodservice, for his Tres Berry Cakesicles.
“This recipe is so beautifully prepared. The colors are just gorgeous, and I love the use of adding the actual berry puree into the cake popsicle mixture,” remarked Reginato on the intricacies of this dish.
A new element to this year’s prize structure is the added feature of a non-profit organization of each chef’s choice. As winner of Top Chef, Chef Blackburn won $1,000 cash for himself and a matching grant toward his selected non-profit organization, Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation. People’s Choice winner, Chef Barker, won $500 cash and a matching grant to his selected non-profit, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Congratulations to the winners!