Facing an all-star panel of celebrity chefs and media personalities, as well as the discerning palates of the public, UNLV student Stephen Gillanders cooked his way to the national title of "Almost Famous Chef" this past weekend at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. Gillanders, who faced regional winners from the nation's top culinary schools, won a trip to the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners (ICIF) in Italy, numerous culinary products, a $1000 prize from contest sponsor S.Pellegrino and an appearance on NBC's Today Show in New York.
Preparing his signature dish - Crispy Skin Cured Salmon with Parmesan Spinach Cakes, Yukon Gold Potato Puree, Mushroom Ragout, Smoked Salmon Rillette, and Port Beurre Rouge - Gillanders took the competition's "People's Choice" and "Signature Dish" competitions, as well overall top honors.
"Stephen is a great chef and also a young man of exceptional character," said Jean Hertzman, Lecturer/Chef at UNLV's William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration. "His personality, creativity and grace under pressure impressed a very tough panel of judges. He brings a rare combination of talent and true personal enjoyment to his work that is the hallmark of a great chef. We are of course very proud of his accomplishments, and expect him to have a wonderful career ahead."
Gillanders, a 21 year-old junior studying Culinary Arts Management at UNLV, first developed his flair for cooking while in high school in Los Angeles.
"This competition has been a great experience for me," said Gillanders. "I've learned a lot about this field - that it's really all about satisfying people. The heat of the competition also helped me learn about my own capabilities under incredible pressure. I'm very excited to have come so far - and I'd like to thank everyone who has supported me."
The Almost Famous Chef competition is designed to help students learn firsthand from some of the world's most famous culinary personalities what it takes to become a great cook - and a successful chef - in today's competitive marketplace.
Judges in the weekend's competition included chefs Charlie Palmer (Aureole, New York and Las Vegas), Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken (Owners, Border Grill, Los Angeles/Hosts, TV's "Two Hot Tamales"), John Bray (Assistant Executive Chef, Mandalay Bay), Piero Selvaggio (Valentino, Santa Monica and Las Vegas), and Hubert Keller (Fleur de Lys, San Francisco and Las Vegas). Media judges included Muriel Stevens (Food, Wine and Travel Editor, Las Vegas Sun), Heather John (Senior Editor, Bon Appetit), Evan Kleiman (Host, "Good Food", KCRW-FM) and Jennifer English (Host, The Food & Wine Network). Winners of the prestigious contest, now in its third year, were announced on Saturday, October 16.