Top Chef finalists virtually serve their favorite appetizers

Top chef winner and senior marketing major David Brooks prepares his original smoked butternut queso dipping sauce for a Zoom audience. Photo courtesy of Sarah Siock.

By Sarah Siock

107.7 The Bronc’s first-ever virtual Top Chef competition came to an end on Nov. 20 after several days of online voting with three Rider student chefs preparing their favorite recipes from the comfort of their kitchens. 

Similar to many other campus traditions, this year’s Top Chef competition looked different due to the coronavirus. Since the chefs were not able to serve their dishes in-person during the dinner rush at Daly Dining Hall, the tradition of Top Chef was kept alive through a Zoom meeting. 

From Oct. 26 through Nov. 13, nearly 20 participants submitted a recipe in the hopes of being named a finalist in the competition and having a chance to prepare their recipe in front of an audience on Zoom. As part of the decision process, a panel of judges, selected by Rider’s food and dining services company, chose the three recipes that would advance to the Top Chef finale.

The finalists were senior marketing major David Brooks, sophomore communications major Francesca Davie and second-year graduate homeland security student Toniann Seals. 

“Top Chef is a long-standing tradition with The Bronc, it is one of the first competitions we ever did at Rider. This year, we wanted to keep the tradition and keep some normalcy about our semester here at Rider,” said The Bronc’s General Manager John Mozes.

This year’s Top Chef competition allowed contestants to get creative by preparing dishes under the theme of family appetizers. Each contestant prepared a unique dish — Brooks made a smoked butternut queso dipping sauce, Davie made fried Brussels sprouts stuffed with maple bacon and Seals made buffalo chicken empanadas. 

“We picked appetizers as the theme since we held the competition so late in the semester. We thought it would go great this year as something to make for the holidays with your family,” said Mozes. 

Due to Top Chef’s online format, The Bronc decided to have students vote for their favorite recipe over several days — from Nov. 16 to Nov. 20 — with the final tally being revealed during the live show. At the competition, each contestant was given 20 minutes to present a cooking demonstration of their dish while voting continued. 

Since the chefs prepared appetizers from their home kitchens, audience members were able to connect with the finalists in a more intimate setting. For instance, Seals was joined by her young niece and nephew during the competition who helped her prepare her dish.

“This semester is very unique in what we are able to do and I wanted to make the most of it. I thought Top Chef would be the perfect opportunity to get more involved on campus and participate in something fun,” said Seals.

Seals explained that she often looks online for recipes to make and the competition was a chance to showcase a dish she makes that was inspired by a family member. 

“My brother-in-law taught me how to make authentic beef empanadas and I have been making buffalo chicken dip for a while. I knew these two would be a fantastic combination,” said Seals.

Second-year graduate homeland security student Toniann Seals prepares buffalo chicken empanadas at the Top Chef competition. Photo courtesy of Sarah Siock

Ultimately, Brooks won the competition and was named the Student Top Chef. As the winner Brooks was awarded a Starbucks cruiser bicycle, a $250 Starbucks gift card, a Rider Student Top Chef embroidered chef’s coat and a cooking basket. 

Brooks presented a detailed demonstration of his dish which included the baking of homemade soft pretzels from scratch to dip in the queso appetizer. During the competition, Brooks explained where his love for cooking developed. 

David Brooks prepares soft pretzels that will be used to dip into his queso creation. Photo courtesy of Sarah Siock

“I have been very fortunate to have two parents that love to cook. I also spent a lot of time working in different restaurants. I feel I developed more technical skills from working in the foodservice industry with a lot of people that do this every day,” said Brooks. 

While students were unable to taste the chef’s creations, the fun spirit of Top Chef was still felt through this online competition.

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