Disclaimer: Although I’ve attended for free for years as a student or volunteer, this year marks the first time I’ll be sitting at a “big kid” table at Diamond Chef. Organizers offered me a ticket in exchange for my normal coverage, so I’m telling you and the FTC powers that be. Sorry for two “sponsored” things in a row, technically.
It’s time once again for that iconic culinary throwdown, the Diamond Chef competition final, this year pitting Executive Chef Daniel Capello of Chenal Country Club against Executive Sous Chef Marc Guizol of the Capital Hotel. The ticketed event will be held this Tuesday, June 3, 6 p.m. at the Statehouse Convention Center. Tickets are still available, $200 each or $2,000 for a table of 10.
Diamond Chef is a fundraising event for the Pulaski Technical College Foundation, specifically for the Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute, or CAHMI (Read: “Cammie”) for short. If you know me at all, you know I’ve got quite the soft spot for CAHMI, being a graduate and now sitting on the advisory board. Every dollar raised at Diamond Chef helps students have the equipment and opportunities they need to be the well-trained workforce that Arkansas deserves.
I’ve had the privilege of covering the Diamond Chef event for several years now (excepting last year, when I was at Disney World — my bad), since my days as a culinary arts student at Pulaski Tech. Since then, the event has become even bigger, better and more fun!
The event starts with a cocktail hour in the lobby, giving attendees a chance to mingle and start bidding on the well-stocked silent auction. Later, attendees are ushered into the ballroom, flanked on both sides by CAHMI students and faculty in their white chef coats. The guests are then seated at round tables for 10 while dining on a multi-course meal. (And because I know you’re wondering, none of these meals are made by the frantically-competing chefs, just by the amazingly talented culinary staff at Statehouse.)
While you watch, the two finalists, each with two sous chefs, are presented with the one secret ingredient that must be used in every dish presented that night, and they have but 60 minutes in which to do it. At least three courses are required, but being the overachievers that they are, we often see more. A panel of expert judges will score the chefs on creativity, taste and presentation, while Chef Andre Poirot of Crowne Plaza Little Rock will serve as a technical judge, scoring the chefs on sanitation and organization. Note: I’ve seen chefs lose by a fraction of a point for sanitation. It matters!
The seated part of the event also includes a live auction, filled with fantasy prizes and trips for foodies. (I swear, one day I’ll bid on a trip to eat at the renowned French Laundry, if that auction item appears again.)
I hear you…”Wasn’t there a Diamond Chef just a few weeks ago?” Well, yes, gentle reader; I’m glad you remember. That was the preliminaries, an exciting, multi-round free event that chooses this year’s challenger to the previous year’s Diamond Chef champion. See, here’s a selfie I took with Chef Guizol just after his big win!
At this preliminary event and at other food events around town, I’ve been amazed at Chef Guizol’s skill. It’s a testament to the stacked deck of awesome over at the Capital Hotel that someone of his stature is second in command (to Executive Chef Joel Antunes) and is flanked by tournant (or roundsman, basically a chef who can do anything at any station) Arturo Solis, whose performance at last year’s AHA Culinary Classic was as astounding as any head chef in town.
Guizol came away as the winner of last year’s Arkansas Hospitality Association Iron Chef competition, so he’ll be a formidable competitor at this year’s Diamond Chef.
Meanwhile, Chef Daniel Capello is a Diamond Chef legend. He won the title last year as well as in 2010, and has long been active in culinary competitions and other events such as Wildwood’s Wine and Food Festival, CAHMI’s Chef Ball, and the March of Dimes Signature Chef event.
The main thing that stands out to me about Capello is his generosity to the local food community. If you are a culinary student or up-and-coming chef in Arkansas, chances are you’ve had the chance to visit with him and glean from his experience. His attendance at all the aforementioned events show that he’s not too busy or too good to share the culinary wealth.
I hope you’l join me this Tuesday at the Diamond Chef final event. It’s a great event for a great cause. Our students at CAHMI very much appreciate your support of their education!
Diamond Chef Final
benefiting Pulaski Technical College
Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute
Statehouse Convention Center
6-10 p.m. (Cocktails from 6-7)
$200 each / $2000 for a table of 10