Long known for its baseball and beer, St. Louis has earned notoriety in recent years for another distinction: fine dining. Earlier this year five St. Louis chefs were semifinalists for Best Midwest Chef in the coveted James Beard Awards, and one of them (Gerard Craft; Niche, Taste) took home the prize. This past weekend, St. Louis’ proud restaurant scene was on display at Taste of St. Louis, an annual food festival highlighted by the Stella Artois Chef Battle Royale.
This year’s competition started with eight chefs from surrounding St. Louis restaurants, all battling for fame and glory. After two harsh days of intense competition, only two chefs were left standing: Bob Colosimo of the Tuscan-inspired Eleven Eleven Mississippi and Jessie Gilroy, chef at Tavern Kitchen and Bar best known for its comfort food.
On paper, Colosimo seemed to have the upper hand in experience and reputation, having graduated from the Culinary Institute of America prior to spending years as a head chef for numerous cruise ship lines. Gilroy, a relative newcomer, honed her skills at one of St. Louis’ premier Italian restaurants (Charlie Gitto’s) before taking over menu at Tavern Kitchen and Bar.
In the final championship round, the two chefs were given 40 minutes to prepare an entree with Skate (stingray) wings, lobster, mussels and scallops. On top of all the various seafood items, Colosimo and Gilroy had to incorporate the sponsor’s Stella Artois beer into the dish.
Using Asian cuisine as her inspiration, Gilroy prepared a lobster head coconut red curry, mussels in beer broth, seared skate wing and scallops with an herb salad. The judges were very pleased with her technique, presentation, and overall flavor. They complimented her on her perfectly cooked skate wing and scallops. This came as a surprise to the chef as it was her first time ever cooking skate wing. She admitted she had watched a YouTube video on it earlier that morning. However, the judges could not agree on her use of spices. Some praised Gilroy for the way her herbs and spices complemented each other, while others thought the spices overpowered the dish.
Colosimo wanted to showcase the Stella Artois in a Thailand-inspired spicy curry. He prepared a blanched lobster and mussel curry sauce, coconut Stella battered skate, seared scallops and rice noodles. The judges commended his presentation and ability to promote the beer. They thought the curry could have been a little spicier, but they liked how he included red chilis on the side so each judge could customize the curry to their preferred amount of spice. In the end, Colosimo’s flavors, presentation, creativity, and technique came out on top as he was crowned the Stella Artois Chef Battle Royale Champion!