|LEFT TO RIGHT: Kenny Giambalvo, Michael Palmer, Adam Kekahuna, Jenny Nguyen, Peter Sieracki and Eric Emerson.|
A field of 38 Western Culinary Institute students submitted menus in the first-ever "Chef's Invitational Dinner," a cooking-school contest à la Donald Trump's TV hit.
After menu evaluations by WCI teachers and professional chefs, three cookers remain: Eric Emerson, 29, a professional picture framer; ex-pre-med student and ex-Red Robin grease slinger Jenny Nguyen, 24; and recipe-contest junkie Peter Sieracki, 22.
Tomorrow, the finalists will prepare their dishes for the judges. The prize? A $5,000 WCI scholarship and a chance to prepare the winning menu for Sunday's gala five-course Bluehour feast under the watchful eye of Giambalvo.
"We're all addicted to The Apprentice," says Giambalvo of the inspiration for the competition. "We wanted to elevate WCI, because we keep on hiring their graduates."
To get the scoop on these upcoming talents, we transferred the Boardroom to a WCI kitchen, inviting two judges--Giambalvo and Adam Kekahuna, Saucebox's new chef de cuisine--to get in on the grilling.
Bite "The Donald" Club: What makes you think you have the right stuff to win?
ERIC EMERSON: I know I have the right stuff. I created my menu around the different wines that flavor my sauces.
JENNY NGUYEN: I don't know--I've never even been to Bluehour. The money and the exposure sounded good. I used the simple flavors of Italy in my dishes.
BC: Honesty--a good tactic.
PETER SIERACKI: I found out ahead of time that we'd be planning a spring banquet. So I used the fresh flavors of arugula and asparagus in my menu.
BC: Using top-secret intel. Devious. I like it.
Adam Kekahuna: Why do you cook?
EMERSON: A restaurant has it all. It's fast-paced, and you never know what's gonna happen next.
NGUYEN: I love "flavas."
SIERACKI: It's a creative outlet.
Kenny Giambalvo: Who--or what's--your kitchen inspiration?
EMERSON: Food can make you feel so good inside. It's an art form that hits every sense.
NGUYEN: I grew up on my mom's Vietnamese cooking. My parents still want me to be a doctor, and that fuels my fire to challenge what they think of "the kitchen."
SIERACKI: Chef Jean-Georges [Vongerichten].
BC: What's your secret weapon?
EMERSON: Mental mise en place. But my dessert is the coup d'état.
NGUYEN: Sense of humor. I'm already nervous, but it's only butterflies so far--no barfing.
BC: I only have one thing to say: You're all fired.
Chef's Invitational Dinner at Bluehour, 250 NW 13th Ave., 226-3394. 6 pm Sunday, April 25. $150. Call for reservations.