Creating an original entrée recipe inspired by the popular street food trend sweeping the nation was the challenge for the 2011 Tabasco Brand Hottest Chef Contest. The $10,000 grand prize was recently awarded to one professional chef for his “Triple Threat Carnitas” featuring his special blend of multicultural influences and three flavors of Tabasco-brand Pepper Sauce.

Michael Mao, Sous Chef at Johnson’s Grill in Newark, Delaware, won the $10,000 prize for his “Triple Threat Carnitas Naan Tacos with Chipotle Tropical Salsa and Spicy Mint Sour Cream,” featuring three different pepper sauce flavors — Tabasco-brand Green Jalapeño Pepper Sauce, Tabasco-brand Chipotle Pepper Sauce, and Original Tabasco-brand Pepper Sauce.

Nicole Picinich, a chef-in-training at Washburne Culinary Institute in Chicago, took the competition’s student category prize of $2,500 for her “Chipotle Chi-Town Pita Chicken Sliders Stuffed with Blue Cheese Crumbles & Smokin’ Blue Slaw” entrée. Contestants were asked to submit recipes using fresh, easily sourced ingredients.

“My dish was inspired by my multicultural background and exposure to some of the world’s most popular ethnic cuisines, combining Indian, Mexican, and Asian influences,” Mao says about his prize-winning street food.

According to Martin Manion, vice president of corporate marketing for McIlhenny Company, both the student and professional winners captured the essence of the contest and street food inspiration in their unique dishes.

“Both of the winning recipes successfully incorporate bold flavor and hints of world cuisine we’re seeing in the foodservice industry; they also reflect a simple, cost-sensitive approach consistent with today’s challenging economic climate,” Manion says. 

The professional and student category winners were awarded cash prizes and will be featured along with their winning recipes on

McIlhenny Company’s President and CEO, Paul McIlhenny, along with top New Orleans chefs — including Chef John Besh, Restaurant August, Besh Steak, Lüke, La Provence, Domenica, and The American Sector; Chef Adolfo Garcia, RioMar, La Boca, a Mano, Gusto, The High Hat Café, and Ancora Pizzeria & Salumeria; Chef Tory McPhail, Commander’s Palace; Chef Tom Wolfe, Wolfe’s Restaurants; and Chef Sue Zemanick, Gautreau’s — comprised the judging panel and selected the professional and student winners at Delgado Community College in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Delgado culinary students, under the direction of McIlhenny Company Executive Chef Judson McLester, prepared the finalist dishes. In keeping with this year’s theme, “Hitting the Streets,” McIlhenny Company designed the judging session to include real-world training for Delgado students to learn how to create fresh, street savvy menu items and keeping up with one of America’s hottest culinary trends.

Tabasco brand Pepper Sauce has been made on Avery Island, Louisiana, for more than 142 years and is now labeled in 22 different languages and dialects and sold in over 160 countries and territories around the world.

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