Chef Miguel Morales and sous chef Michelle Cantalupo of Foodtown/Food Circus Supermarkets have worked in kitchens for just about as long as they can remember. Their shared wealth of knowledge, combined with the guts to innovate with each dish, gave them the edge to win the New Jersey Food Council’s second-annual Best Chef Cook-Off Challenge.
The prestigious challenge preceded the Food Council’s 2017 Trade Relations Conference, a popular industry event for food retailers and suppliers held June 6-7 at Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City. More than 200 industry leaders watched the culinary heavyweights display their talents, network and learn more about the future of the business.
Competing against the top supermarket chefs in New Jersey, Morales and Cantalupo won the cook-off for the second consecutive year. But they didn’t rely on old tricks to secure the victory.
The chefs wowed judges with a fried Chilean sea bass dressed in a spicy tomato and chile sauce. Further elevating the dish were a Spanish zucchini stuffed with quinoa, a herb named epizote, tomatoes and queso fresco topped with mozzarella cheese.
Finally, for dessert, Morales and Cantalupo prepared a chocolate tamale stuffed with coconut sweet rice, covered in toasted almonds and pineapple, strawberry and chocolate sauces.
“We chose this dish for its uniqueness,” Cantalupo said. “It is a rare thing to find an actual chocolate cake cooked as a tamale, instead of a regular tamale with chocolate sauces.”
Chefs from QuickChek Corp., Village Supermarkets and Inserra ShopRite also put up a noble fight in the cook-off. Given the tough competition, Circus Foodtown, which operates stores in Monmouth and Ocean counties, was ecstatic to have won the prestigious challenge.
“We believe in great quality and outstanding service,” said Cantalupo, who grew up cooking in her family’s restaurant.
That’s also true of the New Jersey Food Council. During the conference, the organization awarded Stan Barrasso the 2017 Max Stone Award, a distinguished honor given to those with an accomplished career in trade relations. Barrasso, a food broker for Acosta Sales & Marketing, has spent decades in the business.
“Stan Barrasso is an outstanding role model in the food trade industry,” New Jersey Food Council President Linda Doherty said. “His style and ability to forge partnerships between the supplier and food retail community is admired and appreciated.”
Chris Lane, executive vice president of Wakefern Food Corporation, delivered the Trade Relations Conference’s keynote speech. At a time when technology is evolving and consumers’ preferences are shifting, he said, supermarkets and grocery stores that continue doing what they always have might end up on the bottom shelf. The industry’s next five years could bring as much change as the past 50 years, he added.