Utah is once again basking in the national food spotlight. Salt Lake City's Lucky 13 Bar and Grill won the World Burger Championship, held in Las Vegas Nov. 1-4. Leslie Fiet of Mini's Cupcakes won an episode of the Food Network's Cupcake Wars, which aired Sunday. And first-grader Chandler Wambach of St. George wrote an essay that bested more than 29,000 entries in Olive Garden's Pasta Tales competition.
A first-time event at Caesar's Palace, the World Food Championships consisted of seven different contests — burger, barbecue, chili, sandwich, chef, side-dish and recipe. Lucky 13's owners Jason Stucki, Rob Dutton and Ron Lay won the burger category with a Spicy Candied Bacon Cajun Burger. It was one they had never made before.
"We're known for our fresh, never-frozen beef, and our house-smoked bacon, and that got us into the top 10," Stucki said in a telephone interview. "But in the finals, we weren't allowed to use the ingredients we brought with us, in order to level the playing field."
Each team drew out a "flavor inspiration," and Lucky 13 ended up with Cajun.
The trio had to create a burger based on ingredients they were given, including the sponsoring product, A-1 Sauce. They topped their blackened burger with caramelized bacon and roasted red pepper aioli. The won the $10,000 prize after garnering the highest score from the judges, who were prominent chefs and food writers.
"I recognized some of them from food TV shows," Stucki said. "We were blown away when they announced us as the winner."
In the "Final Table" round, all the champions from the seven different contests were eligible for the grand champion prize of $50,000. Lucky 13 came in second place, earning an extra $10,000. The grand champion was Robert Butler, chef at The Paris Las Vegas, and his sous chef, Lowell McCain, who had won the Best Sandwich category.
Stucki said the winning Cajun-flavored burger is likely to end up on the menu, "But we're not going to rush it out there. We want to make sure we can execute it really well so it can stand up to the demand. It's really labor- and time-intensive to make."
Lucky 13 is located at 135 W. 1300 South and has been in business just over three years.
On the Food Network front, Leslie Fiet and assistant Stephanie Deer won $10,000 and the opportunity to serve their cheerleader-themed cupcakes at a celebration for the country's best cheerleaders. "There's a pep rally going on with this plate," one of the approving judges told her after tasting her cupcakes.
"It's really super exciting to even be asked to be on the show," said Fiet in an email last week from Paris, where she was taking culinary classes.
When asked what she learned from the competition, she wrote, "First, I am good at what I do regardless of personal tastes. That being said, I'm always really amazed that contestants on the show use fake ingredients. Like a jar of pre-made caramel or lemon curd and shortening in their frosting! I'm super proud that, as a bakery, we have taken the stance of never using a cake mix or artificial flavorings in our cupcakes. Not on the show and not at home. Being a true foodie and experimental baker helped me on 'Cupcake Wars,' regardless of the outcome."
She said she was proud of Stephanie Deer, her best friend who served as her assistant. "It took a lot of courage for a non-baker to go on the show, and for me to rely on myself for the success or failure of my choices, and to totally trust Steph on the decorations. It was a lot of pressure on her."
Utah bakers are gaining a reputation for "Cupcake Wars." Earlier this year Meagan Faulkner-Brown of The Sweet Tooth Fairy Bakery won a competition with a "Rock of Ages" theme, and Janell Brown of One Sweet Slice won with cupcakes sporting a "Star Wars" theme.
In a more youthful competition, Chandler Wambach of St. George became a grade-winner out of 29,000 entries in Olive Garden's Pasta Tales. His winning essay answered Olive Garden's question: "If you were given $5,000 to support education in your local community, how would you use it and why?" He wrote about why he would give the money to his local library.
This year's Pasta Tales received more than 29,000 entries, and Chandler's was chosen as the best-written entry by a first-grader. As a grade-level winner, Chandler won a $500 savings bond and a dinner with his family at his local Olive Garden. Wambach is home-schooled. The grand prize winner was fifth-grader Caroline Dupree of Bossier City, La., and Olive Garden is donating $5,000 to her school.
The entries judged on creativity, adherence to theme, organization, grammar, punctuation and spelling, by the Quill and Scroll Society of the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Iowa.
Here is Wambach's winning essay:
"If I were given $5,000 for education, I would give it to my library.
"I read the book 'Day of the Dragon King,' by Mary Pope Osborne, where the emperor was burning books and I don't want that to happen again.
"I like my library because it lets people check out books. I want my library to get new children's books on CD. I've listened to all the ones they have. I would also like them to get more videos like 'Adventures from the Book of Virtues' and 'Bill Nye the Science Guy.'
"I would also get more computers and programs for the children's area. This is what I would do with $5,000 for education."
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