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Jones Sponsorship of Prestigious Young Chef’s Competition Delivers First Time Win for Chef Gabriella O’Neil
As a longtime supporter of young chefs, culinary schools and culinary programs, the decision for Jones Dairy Farm to sponsor The Chaîne des Rôtisseurs™, the oldest and largest food and wine society in the world, and the organization’s Jeunes Chef Rôtisseurs Competition, was a no-brainer. The 2021 National Young Chefs Competition was held in Overland Park, Kansas, over the summer where regional winners competed to advance to the organization’s global competition held in Paris at the end of September. As the winner of the national competition, Chef Gabriella O’Neil was the sole representative from the U.S. at the international cook-off in France. Let’s learn more about this up-and-coming culinary professional.
Gabriella grew up in Albany, New York around really good food which was important because she also really loves to eat. After getting a job at the Via Fresca Italian Gourmet Market in high school, Gabriella and her mother decided to take a drive to the prestigious Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in nearby Hyde Park for a visit. A few short years later Gabriella would be attending the CIA as a culinary student, graduating with an associate degree in culinary arts in 2018, and a bachelor’s degree in food business management, with a concentration in Italian cuisine, in 2019.
After graduation, Gabriella returned home and worked full-time at 15 Church, a popular modern American restaurant in Saratoga Springs, for a year. To further expand her culinary knowledge, she took a position as line cook at Yono’s restaurant, a world-class fine dining establishment emphasizing Indonesian cuisine, owned by Chef Yono Purnomo. As a member of the Chaine des Rôtisseurs, Chef Yono introduced Gabriella to the organization’s annual Young Chef Competition series. The mission of the competition is to encourage and promote the culinary expertise of young chefs under the age of 27 by exposing them to a competitive environment with their peers.
With Chef Yono as her culinary coach and mentor, Gabriella, now 23, not only entered and competed in her very first culinary competition at the Chaine’s Northeast Regional competition held March 20, 2021, in Buffalo, but she also won it. When asked what she liked most about the cooking competition, Gabriella loved the idea of becoming a student again and how it pushed her to learn more about techniques and ingredients, including “trying things that you don’t taste every day.”
Less than two months later as the Northeast Regional winner, Gabriella competed in the national competition held June 5, 2021, outside Kansas City. Contestants had 3.5 hours to create a three-course meal that included an appetizer, main course and dessert. Employing an “Iron Chef” type format, contestants could only use items from a mystery basket of ingredients presented at the start of the competition. The assortment of ingredients surprised Gabriella because it consisted predominately of proteins including striped bass, Cornish hen and ground pork to use in either the entrée or dessert, and smoked bacon for the appetizer. There were no fruits or vegetables.
The 2021 national competition included eight regional winners and the past national winner. Nine professional judges not only scored contestants on the finished meal in terms of taste, presentation and originality, but kitchen judges also observed them for technique, organizational skills, professionalism, cleanliness, and the creative use of the products as they prepared their dishes. Once again, and with only the regional competition under her belt, Gabriella bested her competition and earned herself a trip to the international competition held in Paris at the end of September.
Gabriella’s winning menu for the national competition included the following:
Appetizer: Jones Dairy Farm Dry Aged Braised Cherrywood Slab Bacon, carrot purée, soy ginger reduction, hoisin pork stuffed breast of Cornish hen, endive salad, Jones Dry Aged Bacon fat vinaigrette
Entree: Sautéed striped bass, mushroom risotto, fish fumet reduction, shrimp mousseline, pickled carrot salad
Dessert: “Stacked Pavlova” French meringue, chantilly cream, mango jam, candied pistachio, honey tuile, citrus macerated strawberry
As a student at the CIA, Gabriella was familiar with Jones Dairy Farm because of the company’s visibility at the school through their endowed scholarship program and sponsorship of the teaching kitchen in the dining venue known as the Egg. That’s why she was excited to learn that Jones was also a national sponsor of the competition and that their products would be included in the mystery box of ingredients.
During the national competition, Gabriella thought the Jones cherrywood smoked dry aged bacon worked really well in her application. According to Gabriella, “I rendered the fat, and then braised it in chicken stock. The natural smoke flavor really came through in the braising process, and also made the meat very tender. I then glazed the bacon in a soy reduction. The soy reduction again complemented the cherrywood smoke of the bacon and added different levels of salt and acid to the fatty, rich dry aged slab bacon.”
Gabriella really looked forward to her first trip to France and learning how a kitchen works in Paris, a place she calls “the top of the culinary ladder.” Fortunately, her trip to the global competition did not disappoint.
“My time in Paris was breathtaking and exciting. Not only being able to compete in France in the famous Le Cordon Bleu kitchen but being able to meet young chefs from all over the world was incredible,” said Gabriella. “The competition pushed me, inspired me, and exposed me to so many new ingredients that I am not used to seeing in the US. Although I did not come out victorious as far as the competition results, I am extremely proud of what I accomplished and learned throughout this process. My time in France deepened my passion for food and cuisine, and it will forever be a prominent moment in my culinary journey.”
Based on her early success, it’s not surprising that Gabriella is hooked on cooking competitions and hopes to compete in more of them around the world. In the meantime, she is excited about her recent return to 15 Church where she has taken on the role as Sous Chef. And although she no longer works at Yono’s, Chef Yono will continue to act as her mentor and friend.
For more information about the Chaîne’s Young Chefs Competition, visit www.chaineus.org/jeunes-chefs-rotisseurs-competition/