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Big Island Chefs Battle It Out for Top Honors

January 30, 2019, 12:28 PM HST (Updated January 30, 2019, 2:00 PM)
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Chef Brandon Yamasaki and his assistant at the Chef Battle Hawaii competition, Jan. 29, 2019. PC: Gerald Besson

Many chefs believe feeding people is the ultimate in giving. On Jan. 27, 2019, three of the Big Island’s up-and-coming chefs gave it all they had when Gertrude’s Jazz Bar in Kona hosted Chef Battle Hawaii.

The event was produced by the Chicago-based company, Social Power Hour, a group focused on bringing food and beverage events to communities throughout the country.

Chef Battle Hawaii contestant Chef Deanna Delmar, Jan. 29, 2019. PC: Gerald Besson

“Social Power Hour started because we wanted to start creating new experiences by having people get off of their phones and start enjoying different events,” said Matt Hensler, founder of Social Power Hour. “We started doing a lot of networking events in Chicago, then we moved into doing more food events.”

Chef Battle Hawaii contestant Chef Mikey d’Amato, Jan. 29, 2019.PC: Gerald Besson

Chef Battle is a cooking competition designed to bring together local chefs who compete to create the best dish in one hour. The selected chefs work together in teams of two to create and serve a signature dish.

“We began having cooking competitions and started a tournament series,” said Hensler. “Now we are going around the country looking for the best chef. We conduct these local events, and then the top two winners advance to regional competition for a chance to go to a national competition in 2020.”

Chef Battle Hawaii contestant Chef Mikey d’Amato preps his entry, Jan. 29, 2019. PC: Gerald Besson

The three competing chefs, Deanna Delmar, Mikey d’Amato and Brandon Yamasaki, had their proteins assigned to them at their cooking stations. The proteins presented to them were ahi tuna, tofu and beef, respectively. Once the competition began, they were able to collect other ingredients from the “pantry” and begin cooking. They were required to use a selected spice from Ohana Spice Trading Company.

Chef Mikey d’Amato’s Vegan Tofu Scallop with Ohana spices at the Chef Battle Hawaii competition, Jan. 29, 2019. PC: Gerald Besson

The audience cheered on the chefs and their assistants as they prepared their dishes. Adding an element of challenge to the competition were the unusual “kitchens.” The dishes were all prepared in one hour on portable tables using camp stoves—a far cry from a commercial grade, professional kitchen. However, the culinary artists rose to the occasion and prepared unique, delicious entrees to please the audience and the judges.

Chef Battle Hawaii contestant Chef Deanna Delmar preps ahi, Jan. 29, 2019. PC: Gerald Besson

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When their hour was up, the dishes were plated and presented to the judges for critique. The audience also had an opportunity to participate by tasting each dish and voting for their favorite creation.

Judges ranked each creation based on presentation, creativity and taste. While each meal was unique and delicious, both the judges and the audience chose Yamasaki’s Special Stroganoff as their No. 1 choice. The dish was made with beef, homemade noodles, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, spinach, avocado, parmesan cheese and Ohana’s volcanic seasoning.

Chef Deanna Delmar’s Tropical Island Poke with Taro Chips and Ohana’s 808 Poke MixTropical Hawaiian Poke with Taro Chips at the Chef Battle Hawaii competition, Jan. 29, 2019. PC: Gerald Besson

“It was a blast,” said Yamaski, lead line cook at Hilo Hula Hulas. “I was able to step out of my comfort zone and meet and feed some really cool people. I definitely had fun cooking with all the other chefs. It as awesome and I wish it didn’t have to end.”

Chefs Delmar and d’Amato tied for second place with Delmar’s Tropical Island Poke with Taro Chips and Ohana’s 808 Poke Mix, and d’Amato’s Vegan Tofu Scallop with Ohana spices.

Chef Battle Hawaii’s winning dish—Special Stroganoff—created by Chef Brandon Yamasaki and his assistant at the competition, Jan. 29, 2019. PC: Gerald Besson

“Cooking is my passion, straight from my heart and soul,” said Delmar, who currently cooks for Gertrude’s Jazz Bar. She credits her love of the culinary arts to her father and other family members who love to cook.

In addition to cooking, Chef d’Amato is also an award-winning bartender from the southwestern state of New Mexico.

“I’m excited to see what this battle can inspire me to bring to the table,” he said.

An appreciative audience applauds a Chef Battle Hawaii contestant, Jan. 29, 2019. PC: Gerald Besson

All the chefs brought their A-game to Chef Battle Hawaii, and impressed guests with their ability to spontaneously create edible art.

As the famous chef Wolfgang Puck once said, “Cooking is like painting or writing a song. Just as there are only so many notes or colors, there are only so many flavors—it’s how you combine them that sets you apart.”

Karen Rose
Karen Rose is a writer and journalist living on the Big Island of Hawai‘i. Her writing focuses on food, wine, travel, arts and entertainment. She never met a food she didn't like—except black licorice.
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