On Tuesday morning Terminal 2 at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport began to smell.
But in a good way.
The source of the smell: aromas from the fifth annual Channel Your Inner Chef culinary competition hosted by airport restaurateur HMSHost and the Chicago Department of Aviation.
During the 30-minute in-terminal cook-off four finalists from across the country created an original recipe using any of the ingredients available to them from a shared pantry revealed at the start of the event.
At least one of the ingredients had to be something picked that day from O’Hare’s hydroponic Urban Garden.
The contest took place in front of an audience of invited guests and travelers on their way to or from their flights.
Each contestant had a cooking station to work at that included a knife tied to the table, a reminder that the event was taking place on the secure side of the terminal.
I was in the audience for this year’s competition and was pleased to see winners from past years (all women) paired up as mentors to this year’s contestant chefs and on stage to help out during the first few minutes of the contest.
Then each finalist went to work on their own, whipping up dishes that included a pasta, a unique take on shrimp and grits and a Brie Schnitzel.
A panel of local judges evaluated the contestants on their recipe, presentation, showmanship and, of course, the taste of their dish and crowned Greeley, Colorado resident DeAndre Smith as the winner.
His winning dish: a pan-seared chicken breast with a brown sugar glaze accompanied by pickled rainbow carrots with Fresno peppers, fresh lemongrass, ginger and rice wine vinegar, along with a yam purée with cumin and almonds and flash fried kale.
“I thought about what my dish would be before I came to the contest and was just hoping the ingredients I needed would be here,” Smith told me, “I had to make a few adjustments, but it worked out.”
Smith’s prize is roundtrip airfare for two, as well as a VIP experience for two to the James Beard Awards Gala in Chicago.
Even better: Smith’s dish will soon be featured on the menu of an HMSHost-operated restaurant at O’Hare.