Utah team wins big at World Food Championships

Wednesday , December 03, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Chat and Chew

Most people leave Las Vegas with less money in their wallet than before. But David Grover and Jamie Boyle of Murray came back $10,000 richer.

They bet on their own cooking skills, and won the Recipe category of the World Food Championships held Nov. 12-18.

Their Creamy Bacon Cheddar Stuffed Chicken Breast, Southwest Chile Verde Lasagna, and Wasatch Back Jack Bacon Taters took top scores based on the judges' EAT criteria — execution, appearance and taste.

About 400 professional chefs and amateur cooks participated in the World Food Championships, which named nine $10,000 category champions. Those nine teams (including Grover and Boyle) competed in the "Final Table" for the $100,000 grand championship.

Although they didn't win the grand prize (it went to chef Ricardo Heredia of San Diego), Grover said he and Boyle exceeded their own expectations.

"We just went down there to have fun cooking, because for the caliber of people we were competing against, we didn't anticipate a first-place win," Grover said.

They even planned to leave for Utah on Monday, a day before the Final Table competition.

Cooks from around the world receive a berth at the World Food Championships after winning some type of sanctioned cooking contest.

The duo, known as the Half-Baked Hippies, received an invitation after winning the Dutch Oven World Championship Cook-Off in March.

In addition to the Recipes, other categories included Dessert, Bacon, Burger, Chili, Sandwich, Seafood, Pasta, and Barbecue.

For their first round of competition, the Half-Baked Hippies had about two hours to make a Jalapeno Bacon Cheddar Stuffed Chicken Breast, and Southwest Chile Verde Lasagna. Those two dishes put the team into the top ten finalists, and another round of cooking.

They were assigned to come up with an "infused potato dish" using cheese, and came up with Wasatch Back Jack Bacon Taters, using Heber Valley Artisan cheeses. The combined scores from both rounds put them on top.

They were presented with a giant check for $10,000, and a chance to compete in the Final Table. where they placed ninth.

Grover noted, "To us, it feels good to know we put our best effort in and completed the journey. Success is valued differently by different people."

They also enjoyed rubbing shoulders with cooks and chefs from all around the world.

"We made a point to shake hands with all the other competitors and thank them for competing with us, because we don't want anyone to go home with hard feelings or feel like someone is gloating," Grover said.

They even helped out British chef from Cornwall, who was competing in the Seafood category. Due to his inexperience with the induction cooktops, his flour tortillas burned.

"You could see in his face the panic and stress he was experiencing, because he cooks everything on a gas stove in the UK, " said Grover. "I said, 'Is there something we could do to help?' and he said, 'I need taco shells.' "

It happened that Grover and Boyle had leftover corn tortillas from their previous competition. With just 10 minutes left on the clock, Jamie ran back to their hotel room and brought back their tortillas.

"He grilled those tortillas up as fast as he could, and was able to turn his dish in on time," said Grover. "Now we're sending recipes back and forth on Facebook, and we never would have had that friendship."

Grover, who works as a compliance officer for Salt Lake City, has a culinary background. At 15, his first culinary job was at Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City making kosher food for the Sabbath. He completed a high school culinary program, apprenticed at the Salt Lake County Club and also worked at Cucina deli. He also worked in the kitchen at the Utah State Prison, overseeing daily food preparations.

But he put a culinary career on the back burner, "Because I needed a job with benefits, and a government job provided me with the benefits I needed."

So he cooks as a hobby now, competing in Dutch oven and barbecue cook-offs. He began cooking with Jamie about five years ago, after his Dutch oven teammate Damon Faust was tragically killed in a car accident.

"When he passed away I had that void, I really wanted to still cook in his memory," said Grover. "So that's how she got roped into it. She's a payroll coordinator with the State of Utah, so neither of our careers lend themselves to our hobby."

It's not just the cooking they enjoy, but the fellow competitors.

"I wouldn't trade the friendship and comradery for any size check," said Grover. "The friends I've made along the journey are priceless."

Grover said most of their $10,000 prize money will be used to finance future cooking competitions. They plan to defend their title at next year's World Food Championships, which will be in Florida.

Here are two of their prize-winning recipes.

Creamy Bacon Cheddar-Stuffed Chicken

7 Chicken breasts, butterflied open.

4 ounces (half of an 8-ounce block) cream cheese, at room temperature.

2 cups Gouda cheese, shredded.

1 cup smoked bacon cheddar cheese, shredded (preferred; Heber Valley artisan cheese)

4 cups crushed salad croutons

1/2 cup finely shredded Cheddar (preferred: Heber Valley raw milk Cheddar)

4 eggs, whipped

1/2 cup half-and-half

2 cups heavy flour.

Seasoning salt to taste.

Salt and pepper to taste.

About 2 cups wilted and drained spinach (we wilt ours in 2 tablespoons butter, and a little salt and pepper)

4 cups corn oil.

On a stove, place 4 cups of oil in a 12-inch saute pan over medium heat. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a mixing bowl combine the cream cheese, Gouda, smoked bacon Cheddar, and dash of pepper, then set aside. In a bowl, combine the breadcrumbs and raw cheddar with a dash of seasoning salt ,and set aside.

In a clean bowl, combine flour and some seasoning salt, then set it aside. In a bowl, blend the eggs and half-and-half, and season with salt and pepper. Take each butterflied chicken breast and open it up like a book, season with salt and pepper, then place a gracious amount of the cheese filling in the center lengthwise, garnish with spinach, and roll up the chicken tight around the cream cheese and seal the edges.

Place in a cool spot until they are all rolled. Dip the chilled chicken breasts in the seasoned flour, and then into the egg mix, and then into the crumb mixture; make sure to keep it tight.

Place them on a parchment lined baking sheet seam down, until they are all breaded.

Kick the heat up to 350 degrees for the oil, and start frying them. Place the chicken seam down in the oil and turn as needed to make evenly golden brown. Once they are golden brown, place on a clean piece of parchment. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then drop to 350 degrees until the internal temperature is 155 degrees, and let the temperature continue to rise to reach 165 when done. Let the chicken rest for five minutes before serving. Garnish and enjoy!!!

Cooks note: Most of the cheese for these recipes was sourced from the Heber Valley Artisan Cheese Company in Midway, Utah.


Wasatch Back Jack Bacon Taters

6 medium size potatoes, diced 1/4 inch

1 pound bacon, diced

1 yellow onion, diced 1/4 inch

2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped

8 ounces cream cheese

8 ounces shredded Wasatch Back Jack Cheddar Cheese, divided

Salt and pepper to taste

Brown the bacon, and drain as much of the bacon fat as possible. Add onions and peppers and cook for 5 minutes. Add in the diced potatoes and cook for another 5 minutes with the lid on. Add in the cream cheese and half of the shredded cheese. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes stirring every 10 minutes until potatoes are soft. Stir in the remaining cheddar cheese and place back in the oven to melt the additional cheese. Stir and serve.

Cooks note: The cheeses specified in the recipe are sourced from the Heber Valley Artisan Cheese Company in Midway, Utah.


Valerie Phillips can be reached at www.chewandchat.com

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