Westminster chef advances in The Mason-Dixon Master Chef Tournament

Publish Date:

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


News Organization:

Carroll County Times

Source URL:

BALTIMORE - There was steam coming out of pots, the smell of bacon filled the ballroom and people could hear a chef instructing her assistant on the next step in the dish.

Those were the sights, sounds, and smells that the audience at the eighth round of competition in The Mason-Dixon Master Chef Tournament was treated to. People got to watch two area chefs compete to create an appetizer, entree and dessert. The patrons were able to get up close and personal with the chefs, asking questions and learning about their techniques while they prepared the meals.

One chef even joked if the crowd stood close enough they could get splattered.

"It's the newest form of eatertainment," Erik Folkart said.

Folkart, along with his sister-in-law, organized and created the competition, which will run throughout the summer.

Tickets to the cooking competition come with a complete dinner and then a chance to watch the chefs as they prepare the three dishes in one hour. Some paid extra to serve as judges, while others were randomly selected to judge the entree.

The competitors

Tuesday's competition was between Melissa Fordham and Jeff Keeney.

Fordham, of Westminster, won the cook-off and will go on to a second round in late July.

"I feel honored," she said.

Fordham is the executive sous chef at The Grill at Harryman House. She has also worked at Rafael's in Westminster and learned a lot of her skills when she attended the Carroll County Career and Technology Center in Westminster.

Fordham will also be teaching some classes at Carroll Community College this summer.

Keeney grew up on the border of Carroll in Reisterstown. He trained at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Fla., and also worked at The Grill at Harryman House. Keeney now serves as the dining service coordinator at Brighton Gardens of Colombia, an assisted living community.

Keeney said he's held a lot of positions in the food industry and finds joy in being a chef.

"I used to own a restaurant, I've been an executive chef, I've swept floors," he said.

Both chefs had their supporters in the audience.

Many of Keeney's co-workers came out to root him on.

"Jeff is really good with all of our residents," Lori Cabbage said. She said he works with the residents and tries to include food they'd like to try into his meals.

Before the competition, he tried out his recipes with the residents.

"It was excellent and the residents loved to get the experience," Cabbage said.

Sandy Cushen a friend of Fordham's from Westminster said she was most looking forward to Melissa winning.

Bill Kelley, a chef at Mustang Alleys who has worked with both Fordham and Keeney at The Grill at Harryman House, said he was excited to see the competition.

"I'm interested to see how they are going to face-off," he said.

The tournament

The Mason-Dixon Master Chef Tournament was started by Erik and Karen Folkart; the two are brother and sister-in-law. Erik Folkart works with sales for Sysco Food Services, a company that sells food to restaurants, educational facilities and other establishments. Erik Folkart wanted to support the local chefs and restaurants that he works with and knew that chef competition shows such as "Top Chef" and "Iron Chef" were very popular, so he combined the two and asked Karen Folkart for help getting the event off the ground.

"Everything about food has been exploding," he said.

He contacted some of the chefs he knew to see if they were interested and Folkart said there was an overwhelming response.

Fordham said this was right up her alley.

"I was so excited. I want to have my own cooking show one day," she said.

She has auditioned for "Top Chef" and made the top 20 at the Washington, D.C. tryouts for "The Next Food Network Star."

Karen Folkart said the event is also about promoting the chefs in Baltimore and the surrounding region.

"We wanted to bring the chefs out and show that Baltimore is a culinary spot," she said.

All of the competitions have taken place and will continue to take place at The Belvedere, a historic building in the center of Baltimore.

The competition will continue until a master is named at the Sept. 13 competition. Each week, except for the week of July 4 and Labor Day, there will be a competition Monday and Tuesday nights.

Ten percent of net proceeds from the competition support the Baltimore nonprofit Moveable Feast, which provides meal delivery to homebound people living with AIDS and those undergoing breast cancer treatment.

The judging

Each competition has three expert judges who are involved in the food industry and 25 audience judges are comprised of those who paid for the experience and some audience members who were selected.

The expert judges must rate the three courses each chef presents between 0 and 8 points for creativity, 0 to 8 points for presentation and 0 to 9 points for taste.

Erik Folkart said the judging portion isn't for every chef, and neither is cooking with an audience.

"It's very personal putting all of that on the line against someone else," he said.

Fordham said she wasn't nervous about cooking - she was more nervous about what the judges might say.

"I came last night to see it and the judges were kind of brutal," she said.

The judges admitted they would have to nitpick with the food, because the competitors both created great dishes.

Both Keeney and Fordham put their spin on scallops for their appetizers and lamb for the entree, while they went separate ways for dessert.

Keeney did a bananas foster and Fordham made a dessert with candied pistachios and oranges.

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