World Food Championships Bring Food Fight to Orange Beach
Last month, things really heated up in Orange Beach. The World Food Championships, the biggest food competition on earth, brought 1,200 cooking contestants to the Gulf for a chance to win hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and prizes. And teams from Lower Alabama represented the region admirably, placing as high as second in the competition categories.
Now in its sixth year, the World Food Championships convenes professional chefs and home cooks for five days of grueling, tournament-style competition annually.
In order to make it to the important rounds in Orange Beach, a chef or team had to win one of hundreds of WFC-sanctioned events in the months leading up to the qualifying deadline, which awarded them with the coveted golden ticket.
They then gathered on the beach and battled it out in 10 categories: bacon, barbecue, burger, chef, chili, dessert, recipe, sandwich, seafood and steak. Teams from Lower Alabama placed in six of the 10 categories and really showed up in the seafood category, securing seven out of 37 spots.
The first-place winner in each category received a check for $10,000 and will meet again in April 2018 to see who will walk away from the "final table" event $100,000 richer.
This year, 448 teams created an estimated 8,800 competition dishes. Chefs and cooks came from 44 states and 14 countries, including Australia, Cape Verde, Haiti, China, India and Japan.
Using identical equipment in 40 kitchen areas under a large white tent, the teams battled Mother Nature, other cooks and the clock to produce two dishes within the rules of their chosen category. Winners got not only prize money, but also prestige and bragging rights.
Trained chefs made up 40 percent of the cooking teams, professional and semi-professional competition teams made up another 40 percent and 20 percent of the teams vying for the titles were home cooks.
This year the youngest participant was 14-year-old Jonathan Giovannoni of Canada and the wisest was Mary Kay Lang, age 71, from Woodstock, Ga. Giovannoni ranked tenth in this year's bacon race, while Lang came in fourth place in sandwich.
Dubbed “The Biggest Week in Food,” it's no wonder the World Food Championships is also a chance for budding culinary talent to get television exposure. Food Network actually sent a crew to follow the action. They zeroed in on the seafood category, watching every step from the first cooks' meeting to the judging of the top ten and the announcement of the winner.
Participating chefs and many others are already plotting their strategies and ingredients for next year. Maybe a familiar Lower Alabama face will take first place in 2018—or even land his or her own cooking show on cable TV.
Local results in the World Food Championships:
Sandwich (35 teams)
2. Tyler Ales, Southwood Kitchen in Daphne
19. Brandon Burleson, Central restaurant in Montgomery
Barbecue (10 teams)
10. Patrick Banks, Bootyque in Fairhope
Burger (33 teams)
17. Hunter Harrison, Pat Harrison’s Hamburger King in Ramer
Bacon (34 teams)
17. Juanita Hendrix, BuzzCatz Coffee & Sweets in Orange Beach
24. Kelly Hargroves, Wind Creek Montgomery Casino and Hotel
Seafood (37 teams)
11. Brody Olive, Perdido Beach Resort in Orange Beach
14. Bill Howard, creator of Wild Bill’s Wing Sauce in Gulf Shores
16. Fletch Miller, Villaggio Grille at The Wharf in Orange Beach
22. Landon Benton, an Orange Beach native representing Team Gulf Coast
23. Bruce Walker, Coast Restaurant at The Beach Club in Gulf Shores
24. Jason Ramirez, Villaggio Grille at The Wharf in Orange Beach
36. Stuart Donald, Bella Sera Gardens in Loxley
Chef Challenge (28 teams)
5. John Hamme, Coast Restaurant at The Beach Club in Gulf Shores
7. Lee Bell, representing Team Gulf Coast and Spectrum Resorts in Gulf Shores
15. Kurtis Krum from Orange Beach
20. Jeremiah Matthews, Southwood Kitchen in Daphne
For tickets to the 2018 World Food Championships, visit WorldFoodChampionships.com.