[Austin Ban/Unsplash]

“Dish That Makes a Difference” Contest

00:00 June 26, 2012
By: Kristal Blue
Winner has the Recipe for Success
[Where Y'At Staff/Provided Photo]

Although he has acquired numerous accolades and international recognition, the highly acclaimed Emeril Lagasse is much more than a celebrity chef. He is an advocate for young cooks, aspiring to succeed in the competitive culinary industry. Through the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, the decorated chef mentors young culinary students at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), which boasts a four-year culinary program. The curriculum enables students to thrive in a first-class teaching kitchen, an outdoor classroom, a garden and a fresh foods cafeteria. Since 2007, 70 Louisiana high-school-aged students have graduated from the culinary arts program.

In 2010, the Emeril Lagasse Foundation launched the "Dish that Makes a Difference" recipe contest, a competition which requires students to compose a seasonal dish that features New Orleans' renowned cuisine.

Eighteen-year-old Janeé Taylor won the competition with her Louisiana Surf and Turf dish. This bold creation included succulent Grilled Ribeye, Seafood Mashed Potatoes and spicy Cajun Crab-Boiled Asparagus.

Taylor, a graduate of Warren Easton High School, wanted to present a dish that incorporated her three favorite foods: seafood, steak and potatoes. She was further inspired by dining experiences and by flipping through traditional New Orleans cookbooks. Since Taylor loves spicy food, she added a touch of crab boil to her dish.

Her strong competition included equally innovative dishes, such as: Victoria Farmer's Creole Rabbit with Roasted Butternut Squash and Spicy Corn Cakes, Chayil Johnson's Apricot Glazed Roasted Duck with Butternut Squash Risotto, and Grace Treffinger's Chipotle Braised Pork with Poblano Succotash and Satsuma Marmalade.

"I'm so proud of what these students have accomplished at NOCCA," said Emeril Lagasse. "All four dishes were absolutely delicious."

Taylor's winning recipe—which received more than 2,000 votes—was served in Lagasse's restaurants in New Orleans, Orlando and Las Vegas. The Emeril Lagasse Foundation received $5 from each dish sold.

Since the spring 2012 contest was part of FOOD & WINE'S national "Chefs Make a Change" campaign in February, the contest reached a national audience. Three thousand eight hundred dishes of Louisiana Surf and Turf were sold during the month of March, resulting in $20,000 of donations toward the Emeril Lagasse Foundation to support culinary education.

Taylor recalls the glorious moment when they announced that she was the winner. "I instantly gasped and cried tears of joy," she said. "I felt so proud of myself, and proud to know that my family and friends are such major supporters of my passion." For years, Taylor had hoped to meet Emeril. So when he announced that she was the winner of the "Dish that Makes a Difference" contest and took photos with the young chef, Taylor was all smiles. It was a "moment to cherish and remember for a lifetime," she gushed.

The ambitious student had been working toward this moment for a long time. At the tender age of seven, Taylor began cooking in the kitchen with her grandmother, who is now deceased. "She was and will always be my number one inspiration," she said. Since her grandmother ran a catering business from her home, Taylor was able to learn the key elements of cooking and baking, along with the basics of running a business. This was an invaluable experience for Taylor since she hopes to open her own restaurant.

"I remember the very first time I made a brown roux," Taylor reminisced. "At the time, she was teaching me how to make a file gumbo. And as the first step, she carefully and patiently taught me how to brown a roux. I can honestly say, still to this day, it's a very tough skill to learn and master."

But—even as a child—Taylor's cooking was influenced by her role model, Emeril Lagasse. Taylor conjures memories of watching Lagasse on television, observing his technique. "He brings out the fun and excitement of cooking," she said. "He is one of the reasons why I dream big and set major goals for my future."

Through the opportunities offered by the Emeril Lagasse Foundation and NOCCA, Taylor has been given the chance to pursue her culinary ambitions. Although she has already accomplished one goal—meeting Lagasse—Taylor has a few more items on the agenda. She plans to start a charity that teaches culinary art to underprivileged children and write a cookbook. And Taylor still possesses her childhood dream to run a restaurant, but admits to having second thoughts since completing her freshmen year of college at Johnson & Wales University—Lagasse's alma mater.

"Don't get me wrong," she said. "I love the challenge." But after she was exposed to alternative possibilities, like managing an upscale catering business, Taylor has considered changing culinary career paths. "I want to expand my horizons and try new things before I say 'Ok. I'm going to open a restaurant.'" Regardless of which direction Taylor takes, she is undoubtedly on her way to a flourishing career—one that is rich and flavorful. "I love food and the full-blown atmosphere of the culinary industry," she exclaimed. And with that sizzling attitude, Taylor will set the world on fire.

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