Indianapolis won’t have a team in a global cooking competition taking place here next month, but our culinary scene will be in the spotlight.
The World Food Championships is bringing “The Final Table” to town Aug. 8-9, having home cooks, trained chefs and professional teams compete for a $100,000 grand prize.
The competitors are the 10 category winners from the World Food Championships that took place in Dallas last fall. That competition drew 500 teams.
Finalists in bacon, barbecue, burger, chili, chef, dessert, recipe, sandwich, seafood and steak sectors are going head to head at Ivy Tech Community College’s Culinary and Conference Center.
Sadly, none of the final 10 are Hoosiers.
But local food culture will take the stage for the event.
How the competition is adding Indy flavor
The day before the competition, contestants will tour St. Elmo Steak House, 127 Illinois; Gallery Pastry Shop, 1101 E. 54th; the Indianapolis Zoo; and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“We’re showcasing the city and want to show some of the iconic places representative of the great city in Indianapolis,” said Larry Dickerson, head of the Culinary Crossroads initiative that lobbied for the competition to come to Indianapolis.
All of the related activities are recorded for a show to be aired on the Cooking Channel in September.
And the cooking competition itself will revolve around flavors of Indiana.
“The elimination process takes you on a journey through Indiana food and dishes,” said Mike McCloud, president and CEO of the World Food Championships. “Every dish made at the Final Table was born and bred out of what Hoosiers are used to.”
The first round takes place Aug. 8, when the field of champions is culled from 10 to five based on pork dishes prepared using tomato products from Elmwood-headquartered Red Gold.
That night the winners will visit the Studio C popup diner and event spot, 1051 E. 54th, where they’ll sample their next challenge — a duck dish prepared by chef Greg Hardesty. The three that are judged most successful in recreating that dish using Leesburg-based Maple Leaf Farm duck products will move into the final contest, making an Indiana sugar cream pie.
How to watch
About 40 tickets are available to catch The Final Table competition live — with social distancing practicing in place, of course, at worldfoodchampionships.com. They’re free on a first-come, first-served basis.
It’s a chance to catch some rising culinary stars.
Past finalist Joe Arvin has appeared on Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen” and ABC’s “The Taste,” while Lee Ann Whippen has made her way to Food Network’s “Chopped Grill Masters,” Food Network’s “Throwdown with Bobby Flay” and TLC’s “BBQ Pitmasters.”
“We haven’t had a Guy Fieri or a Paula Deen yet, but they’re starting to percolate to the top,” McCloud said.
Former recipe champ Craig Baker is a restaurant consultant in Indianapolis.
“He’s a good example of what happens when someone wins a competition. Their career can really launch in a hundred different positive ways,” McCloud said.
The winner isn’t revealed until a television broadcast scheduled for September. Spectators must sign agreements to keep mum on the results until then.
The Indiana showdown was initially scheduled to take place in May, and the coronavirus pandemic forced the scrapping of a week of public activities.
Still, it’s a good look for Indianapolis to host the event, said Dickerson, whose Culinary Crossroad focuses on promoting the state’s culinary and cultural offerings.
“For a foodie, it’s about being in the room when the show is being filmed and learning what the contestants go through,” Dickerson said.
‘Crowning the best cook’
This is the eighth edition of Final Table, which changes location annually while the World Food Championships take place every fall in Texas.
The championships, produced by Tennessee-based advertising agency MMA Creative, are unique in that they allow average cooks to show their stuff next to processionals, all vying for $350,000 in prizes.
“The World Food Championships is the only event bringing together all three areas of cooking — the home cook, the competitive team and the trained chef,” McCloud said, noting that the 10 winners this year include three home cooks, four chefs and three competitive teams. “Anybody can come, anyone can compete, and anybody can be a champion.”
“We are about the business of food and crowning the best cook.”
The Final Table event can make for compelling viewing, as it has a tendency to take cooks out of their elements. A dessert champ, for example, might not have what it takes to make it through the pork gauntlet, while a BBQ pitmaster might not fare well in preparing sweets.
“At the end of the day, it’s probably the closest thing to reality TV in the food world that you’ll ever find,” McCloud said. “There’s a lot of sizzle in it; a lot of moments when you think this person is going to have an epic fail. But there’s also passionate, gut-wrenching and sometimes tear-jerking performances.”