After knocking out the defending champion in the first round, all that was left standing in the way of victory for Jason Schmitz was a buffalo rib eye steak and some habanero peppers.
Schmitz was one of four local chefs to compete in the “Steel Chef” cooking competition at the 10th annual Taste of Fort Collins festival. Organizers estimate that the two-day weekend festival at Civic Center Park drew 30,000 people.
Schmitz, who is the executive chef at Pulcinella Ristorante, won the competition by defeating Tobi Bean, executive chef at Somi’s, in the final. Schmitz was nervous coming into the cook-off but expected a close contest.
“We thought we had a chance but you never know when there are four random people judging your food,” said Schmitz moments after winning the contest.
Four people with connections to Whole Foods Market, which was one of the sponsors for the show, judged the competition. Judge Chris Zuccolin, the assistant manager at Whole Foods’ seafood department, believed the difference was a simple dish that Schmitz made during the final.
“Jason’s cubed buffalo with small slices of habaneros was the best dish of the afternoon,” Zuccolin said.
The chefs had 45 minutes to prepare as many dishes as possible using three secret ingredients, which were not revealed until the beginning of each heat. The chefs also brought a stockpile of other ingredients from their restaurants to the contest.
For the finals, the secret ingredients were habanero peppers, pineapple, and buffalo rib eye steak. Schmitz had expected that buffalo maybe used during the show, but the secret ingredient surprised him during his first round match against the Stonehouse Grille.
“Buffalo was easier than chicken, I hadn’t expected that,” Schmitz said. “Chicken is so simple that it is actually hard to think of dishes to use it in.”
The chefs were chosen to compete based on an opinion poll, according to Cat Loyd, Event Manager of the Taste of Fort Collins. She was happy with their performances and the way the competition turned out.
“It was the fifth time we have had Steel Chef and I think it’s been great,” Loyd said.
Steel Chef was only one of the many events held throughout the weekend. The festival included eight different musical performances, two eating contests, and numerous restaurant and vendor booths.
Eliot’s Mess sponsored a meatball-sandwich eating contest on the festival’s main stage. The eight contestants had five minutes to eat two extra large meatball sandwiches. Colin Casper, a student at Front Range Community College, won the competition after eating almost one and a half pounds of meatball sandwich.
“I did the competition because I could get some free food, but once I got up there in front of all people, the competitive edge kicked in,” Casper said.
Casper said he prepared by eating and drinking a large amount the night before the contest, then eating nothing the day of the event. For winning the contest, Casper will receive free sandwiches from Eliot’s Mess for a year.
“It’s a college student’s dream,” Casper said.
Bands that played the festival included Better Than Ezra, who are best known for their number one hit from 1995 “Good” and the BoDeans.