Press Releases

March 26, 2019

Cooking Champion Crowned at Channel Your Inner Chef Cook-Off in Chicago O’Hare

5th annual competition takes flight discovering and celebrating emerging culinary talent

DeAndre Smith celebrates winning the fifth annual Channel Your Inner Chef competition. 

CHICAGO (March 26, 2019) – Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport’s Terminal 2 was abuzz today as aspiring chefs faced-off in the fifth annual Channel Your Inner Chef – an innovative culinary competition created by global restaurateur HMSHost in partnership with the Chicago Department of Aviation. 

Channel Your Inner Chef launched five years ago as the first-of-its-kind live cooking competition to take place in an airport. Channel Your Inner Chef began in celebration of HMSHost’s sponsorship of the James Beard Awards relocation to the culinary capital of the world, Chicago, but since its debut continues to reach new heights. Year after year, the competition opens doors to showcase a diverse group of ambitious, up-and-coming culinary talent.

Contestants are from diverse backgrounds and experiences. This year’s event further empowered aspiring chefs, regardless of background, from across the country with opportunities to find their way into kitchens of their choice.  

“I'm thrilled to be part of this annual event that opens up O'Hare International Airport for aspiring young chefs to showcase their talents amid the hustle and bustle of one of the busiest airports in the world,” said Jamie Rhee, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Aviation. “Congratulations to all of the chefs who participated in this year's Channel Your Inner Chef Competition. Events like these provide a unique opportunity to welcome Chicago's diverse communities into our airport and to celebrate the delicious, local culinary fare that our O'Hare restaurants are serving up for travelers every day.”

During this year’s unscripted 30-minute cook-off where anything could happen, four finalists from across the country were challenged to turn up the heat and create an original recipe from a bounty of ingredients revealed to them only at the start of the event, as well as an ingredient of their choice from the O’Hare Urban Garden in Terminal 3.

Competition was fierce during the action-packed event as the finalists prepared an array of dishes which included: a unique take on shrimp and grits that featured cauliflower grits topped with sautéed prawns bacon and mushrooms with a spicy white wine butter sauce; while another chef prepared a Brie Schnitzel with a mango chipotle sauce and purple cauliflower steak.

“Channel Your Inner Chef is unique not just as the original airport cook-off event, but in that it offers a platform for diverse chefs regardless of background to showcase their enthusiasm and culinary talent in front of a jet-setting audience,” said HMSHost President and CEO Steve Johnson. “We’re grateful to the Chicago Department of Aviation for their partnership as we celebrate our fifth year of this exciting event.”

Inside one of the world’s busiest airport, a captivated audience of travelers, airport and airline employees, and Chicago personalities, looked on in anticipation to see unscripted moments transpire into the grand prize winner reveal.

DeAndre Smith emerged victorious with a sizzling performance creating a pan seared chicken breast with a brown sugar glaze. His dish featured pickled rainbow carrots with Fresno peppers, fresh lemongrass, ginger and rice wine vinegar, along with a yam purée and flash fried kale. 

DeAndre entered Channel Your Inner Chef to try something new and exciting and showcase his cooking passion. As the 2019 Channel Your Inner Chef winner, DeAndre’s dish will be featured on the menu of an HMSHost-operated restaurant at O’Hare for all travelers to enjoy. DeAndre also receives roundtrip airfare for two, as well as a VIP experience for two to the James Beard Awards Gala at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

The chefs were judged by an acclaimed panel that included: Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Jamie Rhee; Alderman of the 19th Ward of Chicago and Aviation Committee Chairman Matt O’Shea; Alderman of the 36th Ward of Chicago Gilbert Villegas; One Off Hospitality Chef/Partner Paul Kahan; American Master Sommelier and restaurateur Alpana Singh; and ABC 7 Chicago’s Windy City LIVE co-host Ryan Chiaverini. The judges based their winning selection criteria on recipe, presentation, showmanship, and, of course, taste.  

As travelers eagerly watched the cook-off heat up, they were treated to a live dance performance by Hiplet™, supported by Dj Gemini Jones, as well as food and beverage tastings from HMSHost-operated restaurants at O’Hare.

To enter Channel Your Inner Chef, contestants submitted a video of themselves preparing an original recipe. The finalists were selected from an expansive pool of video submissions from diverse backgrounds and skillsets. Learn more about the award-winning Channel Your Inner Chef, including finalists’ video submissions at ChannelYourInnerChef.com. Today’s event can be seen at Facebook.com/fly2Ohare.  

Finalist Jamie Fodrey

Finalist Carsten Coombs

Finalist Alisha Dorow

2019 Channel Your Inner Chef Finalists

2019 winner with previous Channel Your Inner Chef winners

2019 winner DeAndre Smith

HMSHost Leading the Industry
HMSHost is recognized by the industry as the top provider of travel dining with awards such as Restaurateur with the Highest Regard Customer Service, as well as Best Brand Restaurateur for Shake Shack by Airport Experience News. USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice Travel Awards gave first place honors to both of HMSHost’s Whisky River locations at Charlotte Douglas International Airport and Raleigh-Durham International Airport. HMSHost is a leader in sustainability practices which include plans to eliminate conventional plastic straw use by 2020. The company also creates original award-winning events and campaigns including Airport Restaurant MonthChannel Your Inner Chef live culinary contest, and Eat Well. Travel Further.

About HMSHost
Global restaurateur HMSHost is a world leader in creating dining for travel venues. HMSHost operates in more than 120 airports around the globe and at more than 100 travel plazas in North America. The company has annual sales of nearly $3.3 billion and employs more than 41,000 associates worldwide. HMSHost is a part of Autogrill Group, the world’s leading provider of food & beverage services for people on the move. With sales of €4.6 billion in 2017, the group operates in 31 countries and employs over 58,000 people. It manages approximately 4,000 stores in about 1,000 locations worldwide. Visit HMSHost.com for more information and connect with HMSHost on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.   

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