What Detroit lover doesn’t love a good Coney dog? What about a variation featuring rabbit sausage or a Kobe beef hot dog? These are just some of the unique takes on the classic Detroit fare competing for a $10,000 first prize in The Detroit Harmonie Top Chef Detroit Challenge.
This is definitely not your daddy’s Coney dog or one you might find down at the ballpark. What it is though is a chance for area chefs, backyard cooks and wannabes with an idea to win a five-figure payday, while helping improve our beloved city.
The whole thing is part of Detroit Harmonie’s annual International Experience. If you have attended in either of the past two years, you know it is quite the affair.
Last year, according to the group’s Executive Director Chad Rochkind, the event drew more than 600 people. And with a theme around our world famous Coney, they expect this year’s event on Saturday, March 23, to be even bigger.
“The International Experience is about celebrating the diversity and future of metro Detroit with some live entertainment, great food and music from several cultures in the Detroit community,” he explained. “This year with a top chef competition, we’re adding something new that we hope will continue into the future.”
A Coney, is a Coney, is a Coney, right? Not so fast.
During the semi-finals of the competition held on February 23 and 24 at Colors Restaurant, 20 people presented their creative dogs to a panel of judges. At the end of the day, the judges met to narrow the field to five finalists that will vie for the top prize.
As unique as some of the treats looked and tasted, the names they gave their dishes were event more fun. “Coney Bap (pronounced “bop”) and “Come on and Bahn Mi Baby Tonight (a take of Vietnamese sandwiches)” were some of the more colorful.
Each contestant was judged one half on the food itself, 10% on the presentation to the judges and 40% on a unique component, how they would use a portion of the winnings to help improve metro Detroit.
For example, Kate Williams, executive chef at new Detroit eatery, Rodin, made her presentation of her creative Coney and then spent just as much time explaining her proposed project, if she won. She described how she would help troubled youth in Detroit to make transitions to independent living.
Each contestant went through the same exercise in their seven minutes in front of the panel of judges. They would first present their food, describe the ingredients and then answer questions about their proposed Detroit help project.
After some full stomachs and much deliberation, the panel chose five contestants as finalists. They are:
- Will Branch – Ethnic influence for entry: Vietnamese Cuisine. Coney dog creation: “Come on and Bahn Mi Baby, tonight.” A culinary school graduate, Branch says he ate his way through Paris, enroute to co-founding Detroit’s Corridor Sausage Co. in 2009 with Zachary Klein.
- Andy Hollday – Ethnic influence for entry: French. Coney dog creation: “L’Haute Duck.” Andy started cooking in his hometown of Toledo, OH, in a small family run restaurant. He has cooked in kitchens on the East and West Coasts, currently working as executive chef at Michael Symon’s Roast restaurant.
- Jesse Knott – Ethnic influence for entry: Incan empire/Peruvian. Coney dog creation: “The Machu Picchu.” Jesse is a 2008 graduate of the Schoolcraft College Culinary School and worked as sous chef for international cuisine / American harvest as well as creating Detroit pop-up style dinners for the last year.
- Lynne Savino – Ethnic influence for entry: French/Vietnamese cuisine. Coney Dog Creation: “Bahn MI Coney Dog.” Lynne has worked in the food and wine industry for more than 20 years. For the past 20 months, she has been working with her partner to open a wine bar in Midtown that will be called Vicolo Vino.
- Derik Watson – Ethnic influence for entry: Japanese/Southeast Asian fusion. Coney dog creation: “Heart and Soul.” Derik is a native of Franklin, MI, and has loved food and cooking since he was in high school.
- Kate Williams – Ethnic influence for entry: French Country. Coney dog creation: “Tricks are for France.” Kate is executive chef and managing partner at Rodin Detroit. She has been back in Detroit for a couple years after studying and working in New York and Chicago. She started a cooking program with Alternatives for Girls in Southwest Detroit a year and a half ago that teaches life and cooking skills for girls in a transition to independent living program.
In the finals on March 23, a panel of five judges will award the winning chef $7,500. A $2,500 People’s Choice Award will also be given out that night. Organizers encourage the public to come out, mingle, sample, vote and enjoy.
For more information about Detroit Harmonie or the International Experience, visit www.detroitharmonie.com.
LOOK: TOP CHEF DETROIT PHOTOS
The chefs had to stand up to the heat of the competition before getting out of the kitchen and facing judges
A creative take on an traditional Jewish dish
Chad Rochind enjoys a taste of the good dogs
Detroiter Frankie Brooks created this unique “dog.”
Putting the finishing touches on one of the coney dog creations
These coneys were more like art. They were as tasty as they were catching to the eye
This top chef entry is a take on Asian cuisine. A Coney with a different flair!