Chef’s Challenge

Traverse City, Michigan, hosts a culinary grudge match as chefs from northern Michigan take to their kitchens against chefs in the southern part of the state.

| March 13, 2009

  • Coffee-Rubbed Buffalo Flank took top honors at the first Chef's Challenge in Traverse City, Michigan.
    Coffee-Rubbed Buffalo Flank with demi-glace, leek spoonbread and morel mushrooms was the winning entry in Michigan’s 2008 Chef’s Challenge. Other recipes included Cocoa Crusted Rack of Lamb, Chestnut Encrusted Walleye, BBQ Braised Venison Shank and Ginger Braised Rabbit.
    courtesy Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau

  • Coffee-Rubbed Buffalo Flank took top honors at the first Chef's Challenge in Traverse City, Michigan.

Traverse City, Michigan — The friendly rivalry between the upstart chefs of northern Michigan and their counterparts in the state’s urbanized south is intense and of long standing, but has rarely been aired in the open.

That changed last year, when Shanty Creek Resorts near Traverse City organized the first Chef’s Challenge, an “experiment in culinary tourism” that pitted chefs from the best restaurants in the north against their downstate counterparts – a sort of North Woods version of the Food Network’s popular “Iron Chef” competition. The event, judged by a panel that included Eric Villegas of “Fork in the Road” fame and Food Network regular Michelle Bommarito, was a solid success.

So it looks like they’ll be doing it again.

The Second Annual Chef’s Challenge will be April 24-26 at Shanty Creek, and will feature more participants, more seminars and more imaginative dishes concocted from Michigan-grown meats, fish, fruits and vegetables (not to mention a wider selection of Michigan wines and craft brews).

“We’ve invited all the chefs from last year to return, and I think they’ve all said yes,” says promoter Joe Breidenstein. “But that’s only the beginning. We’re expanding it this year to include six or seven teams from each part of the state, so there’ll be 12 or 14 teams altogether.”

Breidenstein, a longtime advocate for spring tourism in northern Michigan, created the original Chef’s Challenge as a way to encourage more visitors to the region’s flower-carpeted spring forests while showcasing his state’s rich variety of home-grown food and drink. His idea: to make use of the good-natured rivalry between “up north” and “downstate” chefs by enlisting them in a contest for the title of Best Chef in Michigan. Proceeds from the event would be donated to Challenge Mountain, an outdoor recreation center for disabled and at-risk youth located in nearby Walloon Lake.

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