By Alyssa Naimoli
Three finalists were chosen out of 26 contestants to prepare their dishes, serve them to a bunch of hungry college students and cross their fingers, hoping for votes in Rider Student Top Chef: The Savory Edition’s semi-annual competition, sponsored by 107.7 The Bronc.
On Nov. 14, Daly’s was bustling with excitement as senior Russian major Danielle Lackovic, freshman musical theater major Justin Giachetti and senior business administration major Brian Schauer took their stations. People and food were everywhere, and one could smell the aroma of the meals they were preparing.
Schauer, the first runner-up from the spring competition, took first place for his dish, chicken and fried gnocchi. It was the first non-dessert to win, and Schauer is the first male to win.
“It definitely felt good to win after last year’s disappointing loss,” Schauer said. “So I was actually a little nervous going into it.”
Schauer’s winning dish combined fried potato gnocchi and chicken submerged in a roasted pepper cream sauce.
“It’s definitely a unique dish,” Schauer said. “You won’t be able to find this on Google.”
He took home an Apple iPad Mini, a $100 Advantage Plus Membership to Sam’s Club, a gift certificate and menu feature at PJ’s Pancake House, and $100 Bronc Bucks for pleasing the students’ taste buds.
Schauer’s dish had students lining up around his station, but that did not slow him down as he dished out plates and made light conversation with his customers.
“I think just word of mouth gave me an edge because I had a lot of people telling me in line that they heard it was awesome,” Schauer said. “I saw a lot of people come up two, three, four times, so I assumed people were liking it.”
Giachetti, the first runner-up, combined a variety of international tastes in his seared sesame ahi tuna with sushi rice and cucumber sunomono salad.
“I started exploring Indian, Creole, French, Greek, Japanese and more global flavors,” Giachetti said. “This recipe is unique because it takes these simple ingredients and elevates them. There are hints of ginger, wasabi and soy within the dish, but they aren’t the potent flavors we know. It’s all about balance.”
Giachetti chose his dish after comparing it to the other recipes already submitted in the competition. He wanted to keep things different and interesting.
“That’s what I do,” Giachetti said. “I always steer clear of the conformity and do my own thing. When people were making cupcakes, I was learning how to make creme brulee or bread pudding. So to have this recipe chosen means a lot to me.”
Giachetti walked away with a $35 Sam’s Club College Membership, more than $40 in gift certificates to PJ’s Pancake House and $60 in Bronc Bucks.
Second runner-up Lackovic’s dish, maple apple chicken mac and cheese, was a spin-off of the classic macaroni and cheese.
“It’s regular mac and cheese with a bunch of twists, like chicken sausage, apple juice, onion and things that really fill you up and keep you full for a while,” Lackovic said. “I thought, ‘Has anyone ever made a mac and cheese that was more like a breakfast food? Is that even possible?’ So after some delicious experimenting, mine is made with things like cinnamon and maple syrup.”
Lackovic did not go home empty-handed either. She won a $35 Sam’s Club College Membership, more than $25 in gift certificates to PJ’s Pancake House and $40 in Bronc Bucks.
Despite the growing crowd throughout the competition, Schauer kept his cool.
“Over time, my line just kept piling up,” Schauer said. “My chef, Jose, was great. He and I had worked together last year and there was really good chemistry between us, so we really didn’t get overwhelmed. I was just having fun with it, to be honest.”
Lackovic offered a heartfelt congratulations to her competition.
“You mind giving me that awesome recipe?” Lackovic asked the winner.
Schauer also praised Lackovic and Giachetti.
“I think my competitors’ dishes were very well put together and a huge improvement from last year,” Schauer said. “They did a great job.”
Printed in the 11/20/13 edition.