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El Paso Chef Heading To National "Chef of the Year" Competition

POSTED: Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - 2:05pm

UPDATED: Thursday, July 21, 2011 - 4:08pm

EL PASO- Cooking up a delicious dish can be a time-consuming task. Imagine having to cook four plates, with three items on each in an hour and being judged by culinary experts.

That’s what one El Paso chef is doing this weekend in the hopes of bringing home a national championship.

The kitchen at Helen of Troy has become a culinary boot camp of sorts lately. Chef Mark Spelman, the Corporate Executive Chef there, is one of four chefs in the nation who are set to square off for the American Culinary Federation's "Chef of the Year" Competition.

"We have to do four plates that flow together well, four different courses," said Spelman.

All this in an hour!

"We have to use red snapper, not a very versatile fish, but I think we've got a good chance," said Chef Spelman.

Chef Spelman says in this competition minutes, even seconds, count.  "Any flaw, even in the cooking process, sanitation, anything like that could cost us the win."

The competition, set to be held in Dallas this weekend, is a prestigious one. The process of getting to the national competition required each of the four chefs to win the regional competition first.

"Submitted some pictures and menus and recipes and the selection committee went over that, of over 80 chefs, and then they picked their finalists," said Chef Spelman.

Accompanying the chefs will be their apprentices. Chef Spelman's protégés say there's never a dull moment during their daily practices.  "There’s thing being thrown around. There's fire. There's dishes being thrown and you just have to focus," said Marco Olivares, Chef Spelman’s apprentice.

"It’s a lot of time we spend in this kitchen but I love it," said Ana Dominguez, another apprentice.

Chef Spelman and his apprentices have been practicing for the competition for the past few months and in the past month judges have been brought in to give their feedback.  And what did the judges think?  "He pulls certain things, as we say in the business, out of his pocket, what you don't expect," said judge Dieter Gerards.

Chef Spelman hopes that's exactly what the judges think this weekend so he can walk away with the win.

"We’re gonna try to blow up their taste buds a little bit where it's not gonna be boring for them to eat," says Chef Spelman.

Chef Spelman and his apprentices are set to leave for Dallas tomorrow. Their equipment has already been flown in. They plan to practice a few more times before Sunday’s competition. The results are set to be announced Tuesday and we will of course keep you posted.

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