By ATD’s Florida experts, Susan and Simon Veness
Goodbye Las Vegas, Hello Kissimmee! The World Food Championship, dubbed “the world’s biggest food fight” will be making its new home in Kissimmee this November, filling the streets of Celebration with amateur and professional chefs, cooking live for an audience of thousands.
Over the last 10 years, Orlando has established itself as a serious foodie destination, with four- and five-star restaurants to rival any location in the world. And now, after three years in Vegas, the World Food Championship has given Kissimmee the nod as the home of one of the culinary world’s fiercest—and most family-friendly—competitions.
We attended the media announcement this week, and were treated to a mini-competition, pitting Amy Freeze against Pat “Shubee” Bearry, with Amy presenting a luscious caramel-filled chocolate mousse creation and Shubee offering a succulent crab cake.
The judging team consisted of foodies Zachary Martin, head chef at the Bohemian Hotel Celebration; Experience Kissimmee Chief Executive Officer DT Minich; and Mark Waltrip, Chief Operating Officer of Westgate Resorts. With just five points separating the two dishes once the scores were added up, Shubee went home with his Golden Ticket that guarantees entry to this year’s World Championship. But no worries; Amy already had one from a prior competition.
Just as they will be in November, Amy and Shubee were on the clock to create and present their dishes, and the intensity of getting it just right was palpable. And—just like in a real competition—things didn’t always go to plan. Amy had to overcome the challenge of Florida’s heat on her delicate mousse and whipped cream (plus the disastrous effects of a loose top on her bottle of caramel sauce!) while Shubee was distracted just before the final buzzer and almost didn’t make his presentation on time. High drama with terrific spectator value – and a great small taste of what’s to come!
The theme for 2015 is “Fresh”, and Mike McCloud, the WFC president and chief executive, explained: “We are really excited about being part of the culinary scene here and bringing the world’s biggest ‘food frenzy’ to the area. This is a serious competition and competitors prepare for it for at least a year in advance, but we also want to be very accessible and fan-friendly.
“Over the last three years we have focused on perfecting the tournament and the legitimacy of food sport and the people who compete in it are true athletes with enormous dedication. It is great to see in real life and we can’t wait for November.
“But we will also be very pro-active on social media, too. Foodies can follow us on Facebook to see who qualifies for the various events and who wins, and they can even see the winning recipes online, too. It will be like Top Chef on steroids!”
Come November, more than 500 contestants – ranging from Home Cooks to Professional Teams to well-established Chefs from the culinary world – will each have competed at one (or more) of hundreds of qualifying events throughout the year and converge on Kissimmee for the Main Event, which is where things will get seriously interesting and make for a great spectacle on the streets of the pretty town of Celebration.
Appliance-maker Kenmore and WFC’s Facebook page will also host online recipe contests, which also qualify hopefuls for the competition. Of the tens of thousands of year-long contestants, only a handful of winners are given a Golden Ticket, allowing them entry into the Championships.
McCloud added: “We are not just about competition, we are also about giving back to the community. There is incredible compassion in the food industry and last year we created and delivered more than 8,000lbs of food to local food banks and other needy sources. We will therefore be looking to ally ourselves with many local charities so that this is more than just a great food event.”
It will be the contest itself that will have most appeal for visitors to the Kissimmee area from November 3-10, though, and this is where things get really interesting (and tastebud tantalising!).
Categories for 2015 are: Burger Championship, Open Chili Championship, Barbeque Championship, Dessert Championship, Sandwich Championship, Bacon Championship, Recipe Championship, and Seafood Championship. Winners in each category go on to the Final Round, competing against each other for the coveted Grand Prize and title of World Food Champion.
An invitation-only World Chef Championship, open only to established chefs from around the world, ups the ante, with each chef competing in three challenges: the Skills Challenge, Signature Dish, and Culinary Inspiration, which uses a ‘mystery ingredient’ as the basis of the challenge, while Celebrity Chefs act as judges.
Shubee Bearry hails originally from Maryland but now owns his own restaurant in North Redington Beach, on the Gulf Coast between St Petersburg and Clearwater, and is thrilled to be a part of the WFC once again, having claimed fourth place in the Seafood category in 2013 and competed last year in Vegas.
A self-taught chef, he explained: “I can’t tell you how much fun this event is. For the little you have experienced here today, it is WAY more exciting and frenetic when it’s the Real Thing! People really get into the spirit of competition and the whole food sport thing is taken very seriously.
“But we also have fun with it and I am thrilled to be part of it. I was a latch-key kid myself, so I would often come home on my own but, while other kids watched cartoons, I watched cooking shows and tried things out for myself in the kitchen. I guess I just kept going and here I am today.”
When it comes to scoring the events, everything is based on the WFC’s unique EAT system, with points given for Execution, Appearance, and Taste. Judges, some of them chefs, some not, will all be trained in the EAT system, which helps keep the judging on an equal footing.
What’s at stake? Serious bragging rights, of course, but more than that, the winner of each category receives a cheque for $10,000 while the Grand-Prize winner of the World Food Competition goes home with a whopping $100,000. Not bad for main courses, hey!
Think the recipes these culinary geniuses use are all the result of years of tinkering and perfecting? Think again. While every competitor is meticulous in mastering the dishes they enter, one competitor used his mother’s recipe for carrot cake and walked away with the Grand Prize two years ago.
The event takes place throughout the week from November 3 and is free for all attendees, with specially-ticketed events such as tastings and other culinary experiences. Paid-for events have not yet been announced, so be sure to follow on Facebook or their website for all the latest news.