It was a beautiful cool evening on Shem Creek, but inside the Lighthouse on the Creek, competition was hot among some of the best chefs in Charleston. The occasion? Louie’s Kids, Big Chef Little Chef competition.
In the main room of the Lighthouse, makeshift chef stations lined the walls. Prominently set up in the center was Executive Chef Michelle Weaver from Charleston Grill, who was the 2011 Big Chef Little Chef winner. As the crowd grew, the porch provided respite from the small kitchen. It was lovely to sit outside, sip a cocktail, visit with friends, and watch passing boats on the creek while inside the chefs toiled to serve and meet with the 350 attendees.
Louie’s Kids is a local Charleston organization that was founded in 2001 by Louis Yuhasz to help teach kids struggling with obesity about nutrition and fitness in fun and supportive ways. Louis is a dynamic leader with an infectious smile and an obvious love for the kids and a passion to help them succeed. His own father struggled with obesity and, as a result, died too early. It is almost impossible to meet Louis and not be inspired to help him and his kids.
Enter the 11 chefs.
This is the fourth year for the Big Chef Little Chef competition. It has been such a success in the past that every one of the 11 participating restaurants approached Louie’s Kids about becoming involved. They include some of the most talented chefs in town. For the event, each of the chefs was paired with a child from Louie’s Kids. The teams work together to create a small dish that is both healthy and tasty. The kids are active in preparing the dishes with the chefs and serving at the event.
The food was incredible. Many of the chefs took advantage of the local shrimp, tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans that are in season—so the food was as colorful as it was delicious. Chef Ken Vedrinski brought a pasta extruder and served fresh rigatoni that was so tender it almost melted in my mouth. Chef Nico Romo hand rolled wraps stuffed with fresh beans, corn, and organic chicken. Chef John Ondo served a take on panzanella salad with grilled shrimp on a bed of baby greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, lady peas, and Italian bread brightened with a red wine vinaigrette. The food was outstanding, but it was also wonderful seeing relationships being forged between the chefs and their “little chef” partners. Watching them work together was heartwarming.
At the end of the evening, Louis called the chefs to the podium. The winners of the evening were Nico Romo from Fish Restaurant with his sous chefs from Louie’s Kids, brothers De’Quan and Tre’Quan Jones who proudly received the coveted engraved cutting board trophies. By the end of the night, my stomach was so full and my heart so warm that it was hard to decide what had been the best part of the evening. Through the food and the camaraderie, we all left winners.
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