The team had prepared long and hard and was up for the challenge. Led by Salvador Hernandez, Assistant Executive Chef at Kansas Star Casino Hotel Event Center, all the culinary team’s hard work paid off with a first-place win at the 8th annual Wichita’s Sommelier Smack-Down last month.
Hernandez and his team competed against three other chef teams made up of the finest professionals in their field. The much-anticipated annual culinary competition gathers sommeliers from the surrounding area to pair a red and white wine with dishes prepared by local chefs. There was a total of 15 pairings from six sommeliers, four chefs and their teams, eight dishes and 14 wines. Aside from Kansas Star’s Woodfire Grille, Wichita’s Newport Grill, Chester's Chophouse & Wine Bar and the Siena Tuscan Steakhouse also participated in this annual event.
For the competition, Hernandez said the team worked to strike a balance between comfort food and extravagance.
“We wanted to push ourselves and work with the finest products, such as caviar, foie gras, lobster, truffles, aged beef and saffron threads,” said Hernandez. “We also wanted it to be approachable for the attendees.”
The guests who sampled the pairings heaped praise on the chef’s winning braised aged ribeye cap, foie gras torchon, freshly sliced truffles and port wine reduction.
“The beef and foie gras was an overwhelming success,” said Hernandez. “Attendees were coming back for seconds and thirds.”
Hernandez and his team also prepared a succulent lobster salad with tarragon essence and saffron baby new potatoes, which took third place.
“I very much enjoyed the two dishes we prepared,” he said. “However, working with such delicacies like truffles and foie grass sparked my enthusiasm to explore the origins of such. I’m very passionate when it comes to learning and I always ask myself these questions: ‘What else can I learn? What’s next?’ That is my drive in life and as a chef.”
The team worked tirelessly for months planning and preparing for the Sommelier Smack-Down.
“Hard work always pays off,” said Hernandez. “I’m very thankful for my mentor and Executive Chef, James McNulty. He has worked with the best chefs in the industry and has the knowledge of working with the finest products. I can’t forget about the support of Sous Chef John Bugg, who has always been there for the team.”
Hernandez and his team continually work to create dishes that will entice guests at Kansas Star, and possibly sway judges in future competitions.
“I don’t know when the next competition will take place, I just know that in this industry it is always an ongoing learning experience,” said Hernandez. “We just got to keep pushing ourselves to become better on a daily basis. We owe it to ourselves and the upcoming generation of culinary artists and chefs.”