There's a whole world of cooking competitions that the public rarely sees: chefs cooking for chefs, judged by chefs. And we have a winner right here in SLC.
We're not talking about an Ultimate Flay Throwdown sturm- und-bam drama, choreographed for Food Network, made-for-TV-audiences display. This is a rigorous, rule-bound, Old World series of competitions that evolved directly out of Careme and Escoffier's codified cuisine as carried on in this country by The American Culinary Federation.
The ACF was founded in 1929 and it's the largest organization of professional chefs in the country.
Not celebrity chefs.
The ACF was responsible for upgrading the definition of "chef" from the domestic category to the professional category in the U.S. Department of Labor's Dictionary of Official Titles in 1976. The implications of that may be elusive now, but basically it means a chef is more the equivalent of a doctor than a housecleaner. It's a respectable - now even glamorous - aspiration for a middle-class American kid.
Like Todd Leonard, the chef of Blue Lemon restaurants in downtown Salt Lake and Highland, who just won the title Western Region Chef of the Year from the ACF.
Competing against four other chefs, Leonard had one hour and 25 minutes to prep, cook and serve a whole bone-in duck. The center of his plate was a prosciutto-wrapped duck roulade with port and morel mushroom jus. With it he served a chavre and herb polenta gratin, tomato-stuffed mushroom and seared foie gras; and a mix of sweet peas and other vegetables.
There's a whole book advising chefs about for these competitions, packed with very specific rules and requirements, depending on the category.
Here's one I like: "Dressing the rims of plates results in an unacceptable appearance."
Also: "Sauce boats should only be half full."
You can see it would easy to lose out on a technicality.
Leonard will go to Dallas in July to compete against three other regional winners at the ACF's 2011 National Convention.