Well – I didn’t win, but had an incredible day at the finals. They were held last Thursday at the Bon Appétit Supper Club and Café in New York City, which is a “pop-up” restaurant that’s held in a different location for one week every year. They have chef demos during the day and feature lunch specials from well-known chefs. We spent the day there watching all of the demos, meeting some awesome people, and eating LOTS of food. The event happened in the late afternoon after the demos and lunch service were over. I’ll recap whole day, so please bear with me…this might be a long one!

I met the two other finalists when I arrived: Andreann Geise from Myrtle Beach, SC and Deb Kurtze from Schaumburg, IL. They were both super nice and – like me – excited to be there.


We started the day by ordering lunch. The people at Bon Appétit that were with us for the day suggested we share a bunch of things, so we had a quite a feast: José Andrés’ JLT with Jamón Serrano and Manchego, Tom Douglas’ Rub with Love King Salmon Sandwich, Rick Bayless’ Skirt Steak Salad with Avocado and Chile Lime Dressing, Rick Bayless’ Creamy Corn Soup with Ham, Tom Douglas’ Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons, and Nancy Olson’s Pumpkin Whoopie Pie. The JLT, corn soup, and whoopie pie were the standouts for me, but it was all fantastic!


Gina DePalma, cookbook author and pastry chef at Babbo, took the stage after lunch. She demonstrated how to make a zabaglione, which is made by beating egg yolks, sugar, and red wine. The whole process looked a little exhausting, but the end result (which we thankfully got to try) was delicious. Small portions were passed around with a little piece of hazelnut cake.


After Gina DePalma’s demo, Cat Cora sat down at the table next to us for a pre-demo meeting. Katie and I tried our best to not stare, but we couldn’t wait to meet her! The Bon Appétit and Santa Margherita people had her come over to meet us and take pictures after her meeting. I had always thought she looked intimidating on television, but she turned out to be one of the nicest people I have ever met. She’s also very tiny in person! Eventually, she had to pull away from all of the pictures so she could get up on stage and do her cooking demonstration. She energetically showed everyone how to make her skirt steak tacos with shitake mushroom salsa.




Fabio Viviani arrived shortly after Cat Cora’s demo. He did a demonstration of his gorgonzola-stuffed, pancetta wrapped shrimp over herbed polenta and baby spinach. Sadly, they did not give out samples of his dish. I’m definitely going to try the recipe though; it looked and smelled phenomenal!


Preparations for the Santa Margherita Great Taste Challenge begin after all of the demos were over. They took a lot of professional pictures (which I hope to get a hold of at some point), but – for now – I’ll have to post the pictures my friends and I took.

The judges for the event were Fabio (again), Jacob Falleni (Fabio’s business partner at Café Firenze), Bill Terlato (President & CEO of Terlato Wines), and Barbara Fairchild (editor in chief of Bon Appétit magazine). I was personally terrified to cook in front of Barbara Fairchild. I always see her as a judge on Iron Chef, so I almost didn’t want to know what she thought about my food! That said, I was extremely excited to meet her.

Some of my friends in New York came to cheer me on :). We had some Prosecco while waited for everything to be setup.

Mike, Jess, me, Katie, and Hallie


My demo was first. Fabio and Bill Terlato first gave a brief introduction of themselves, the judges, and the competition to the audience. I nervously waited on stage behind them as Katie kept signaling to me to smile!



Here are some pictures of my actual demonstration. I had some difficulties at first because my pan wasn’t getting hot enough and I couldn’t melt the butter. I only had 10 minutes to demonstrate my dish from start to finish, so this was a bit of a challenge. Everyone was standing around me trying to figure out how to get the fancy touch-screen stovetop to get hotter. Once we figured it out, the rest went fairly smoothly. Fabio’s chattiness helped ease my nerves!




Finalist Deb Kurtzke went next with her Glazed Pork over Mango Couscous. The last finalist, Andreann Geise, cooked Mint, Fig, and Chianti Glazed Lamb with Spaghetti in a Lemon Chianti Cream Sauce. Their recipes (along with mine) are posted on the Santa Margherita Great Taste Challenge website. They were both amazing, so I knew this would be a tough competition.

I was SO nervous when it was time for the judge’s critique and the final decision. They announced that Andreann’s lamb dish with the Chianti won. I can’t say I wasn’t a little bit bummed, but I really can’t complain because I had an amazing time and met some incredible people. I hope they’ll let me enter again next year!

Congratulations Andreann!



Bon Appétit Supper Club & Café (9/21–25) on Urbanspoon

Truffle Mac

Do you ever wind up with a little bit of various types of cheeses in your refrigerator? I noticed yesterday that I had a little bit of parmesan, goat cheese, cheddar, romano, and havarti. Knowing that a couple of them were nearing the end of their shelf life, I thought some macaroni and cheese was [read more →]

The Taste of Greece

My mom visited me in Chicago last weekend and we decided to spend Sunday afternoon at the Taste of Greece in Greektown. Great food, beautiful weather, and plenty of wine – what’s not to love? We started with some grilled octopus from the Greek Islands restaurant. It was simply marinated in some olive oil and [read more →]

Sole Meuniere

Having recently read Julia Child’s memoir and seen “Julie & Julia”, I have been wanting a good excuse to make Sole Meuniere. For those who haven’t seen the movie, Sole Meuniere was Julia’s first meal when she moved to France and what inspired her to learn French cooking. I thought it was the perfect meal [read more →]

Lobster Fideua

(As you can probably tell, I’m a little behind on blogging on all of my cooking while I was in Boston because we kind of cooked non-stop, but here goes my last post from my trip.) My parents met in Spain and lived there for some time before I came along and, as a result, [read more →]

Panko and Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb

My friend Julia came over for dinner when I was home in Boston last weekend and we decided to experiment with a panko and herb crusted rack of lamb. I had never made one before, but – from what I have read – the basic method is to sear the whole rack, then brush with [read more →]

And the winner is…

I won the Santa Margherita Great Taste Chicago Challenge! I’ll be heading to NYC in about a month to compete in the Finals. I’ll try to give a little rundown of how the night went… When Katie and I arrived at the Signature Room at 5:30, we were turned down and told the event doesn’t [read more →]

Pomegranate Cosmopolitans

My mom and I tried out a refreshing cocktail recipe the other night to help relieve ourselves from the weekend’s persistent 90 degree heat. Pomegranate Cosmopolitans – from Ina Garten’s Back to Basics cookbook – are a great update on the slightly outdated cosmo. They were sweet, tart, and (stretch) maybe even a tiny bit [read more →]

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