I was in Napa, Calif., at the Culinary Institute of America to judge the San Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition last month. The mineral water company that's associated with sophisticated dining (its ranking of the world's top restaurants has become one of the most eagerly anticipated events in the food world), launched this competition 10 years ago to mentor exceptional culinary students.
The students, the best of the best, come from culinary schools across North America after winning regional competitions. Their enthusiasm and talent made for an exciting weekend, especially the mystery basket competition, which tests their creativity, and the signature dish cook-off.
The overall winner, Jennifer Kim who trained at Kendall College in Chicago, prepared a superb melt-in-your-mouth duck roulade, wrapped in chard. She received a cheque for $13,000 from San Pellegrino and the chance to work in a top-level kitchen. However, her dish is too complicated to recreate in a home kitchen. I was also impressed with the simple yet full-flavoured dishes from Canadian contestant Daniela Molettieri from Quebec's Institut de tourism et d'hôtellier and Daniel Beale from Johnson and Wales University in Denver. Both these dishes would be great for a dinner party.