What started with thirteen of the top casino chefs from throughout the region ended with one grand champion, and the crowning of this year’s Culinary King of the Casino. Chef Shawn Mac from Greektown Casino in Detroit, Michigan bested the other entries in Gaming and Destinations annual Casino Chef Showdown.
After three rounds of voting for recipes from the chefs, it was Chef Mac’s Seared Mangalitsa Pork Rack Chop that garnered the most votes and put him in the winner’s circle.
This winning recipe is featured on the menu at Prism, the steakhouse at Greektown Casino. The dish utilizes fresh, locally-sourced produce including bing cherries, morel mushrooms and wild ramps. The main feature of this dish is Mangalitsa pork, paying homage to the hard-working Michigan and Midwest farms that brought back this breed from the brink of extinction. Mangalitsa has one of the best flavor profiles and is often considered the ‘the Kobe beef of pork’.
Chef Mac represents Greektown Casino’s Prism Restaurant located at the Detroit-based casino resort, where the winning dish is featured on the menu for all to enjoy.
We would also like to congratulate the runner-up, Chef Mark Kimball from Hollywood Casino in Tunica, MS who came up just a bit short in the final round of voting.
We caught up with the winning chef to learn more about some of his culinary motivations and other tips and tricks of the trade.
Gaming and Destinations: What initially drove you to the culinary world and how long have you been in it?
Chef Mac: My love for food started at a very young age. I would help my grandfather in the garden picking ripe fruits and vegetables. I would watch him make jams, jellies, stewed tomatoes and pickled beets. The passion my grandfather had in making something so simple and yet very satisfying to the soul was what drove my passion for the culinary business which I have been in for 31 years. I think there is still so much to learn about food. A great chef once told me, “You’re only as good as the last dish you put out.” As a chef, you have to keep pushing yourself to be better than you were the day before.
G&D: What do you like about being a chef? What are some challenges?
Chef Mac: I enjoy watching a dish, which started as just an idea, come to life on the plate. Many don’t understand the research and development that goes into a new dish. I also enjoy mentoring and teaching new cooks who are passionate about the industry. One of the many challenges is trying to get a whole team to buy in to your vision of the restaurant or the method to your madness so to speak.
G&D: What are your favorite cuisines to cook…both at home…and for guests? Why?
Chef Mac: My favorite cuisines to cook are Asian Fusion, Sushi, Italian, Mexican, BBQ and Indian. For guests, it really depends on the individual or the season. I love learning about new cultures and their foods and as a chef, you want to test out new foods that challenge your palate.
G&D: Where do you get your ideas for dishes?
Chef Mac: My inspiration comes from smells in the air, thoughts from my childhood, the four Michigan seasons, produce at the markets, reading a lot of cook books and going to eat at other restaurants.
G&D: How do you know when a dish is good and going to be well-received by your guests/customers? Who are your taste-testers?
Chef Mac: I believe if a dish is well thought out, is balanced, and has contrasting flavors then it should be a home run. At Greektown Casino-Hotel our leadership team and the culinary team taste all of the dishes before they are served to the public.
G&D: Do you have any tips for home chefs and how they can have fun in the kitchen?
Chef Mac: I would tell any home chef to try to include other people or guests to help in the cooking. They usually want to help anyway, but are afraid to ask. So whether it’s picking basil for pasta, zesting some oranges or caramelizing some bananas for dessert, include your guests. It’s a team effort and makes for a fun event with less stress on you.
Be sure to to check out our September Issue that will feature the top four chefs as well as our annual Casino Dining Guide featuring our favorite casinos and their dining options!
Meet the Top Three Finishers:
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Special thanks to all of the participating Casino Chef’s in this year’s contest!