Chef Daniel Capello hopes to keep his title as Diamond Chef Arkansas for a second year in a row when the preliminary competitions heat up on March 2. The preliminary competitions take place 2-7 p.m. in the Peabody Hotel Lobby and are free to the public.
The competition begins with several rounds of preliminary cook-offs to select Chef Capello's opponent for the Diamond Chef Arkansas finale on June 7. Diamond Chef Arkansas, sponsored by the Pulaski Technical College Foundation, follows the format of the popular "Iron Chef" television series.
This year six Arkansas chefs are vying for a chance to advance to the final round against Chef Capello. For the preliminary competitions, chefs are presented a mystery basket of ingredients and given 40 minutes plus the help of one sous chef to prepare a dish using all the ingredients.
The six chefs will compete in three heats throughout the afternoon in the Peabody lobby, with the ultimate winner advancing to the final event.
This year's competitors include Jamie McAfee, executive chef at the Pine Bluff Country Club; Paul Clinton, executive chef at YaYa's Euro Bistro; Cindy East, lead instructor at the Pulaski Technical College Arkansas Culinary School; Brian Kerns, executive chef of the Country Club of Little Rock; Jacob Peck, chef at Forty-Two in the Clinton Presidential Library; and Jeremy Reeves, chef at Fox Ridge Estates.
"All of this year's competitors are very capable and very talented chefs," said Monte Hansen, general manager of the Peabody Hotel Little Rock and co-chair of Diamond Chef Arkansas along with Mary Morton. "Any one of them could be the next Diamond Chef, which will make the competition even more exciting."
Capello, who has been executive chef at the Chenal Country Club since 2009, has been cooking professionally for two decades. Before moving to Arkansas, the Texas native was an executive chef at several Houston restaurants, as well as for the corporate dining facility of British Petroleum. He's one of just a handful of chefs in the state who have earned the American Culinary Federation's Certified Executive Chef designation.
"It's all in good fun," Chef Capello said of the friendly competition. "We're raising money for a great cause while doing something we love to do."
The Diamond Chef Finale on June 7 is a ticketed event at the Statehouse Convention Center's Wally Allen Ballroom. Attendees will enjoy a three-course dinner while watching the live, fast-paced competition. Chef Capello and his opponent will have one hour to create a three-course meal using a mystery ingredient announced just before the start of competition. Tickets are $150 per person and can be purchased by calling Yvette Henton, special events officer, at (501) 812-2271, or e-mailing email@example.com.