Steamboat Springs The key to winning the Steel Chef Competition at the Steamboat Wine Festival was being prepared.
The three battling restaurants - Cafe Diva, Chelsea's Restaurant and Mambo Italiano - had to incorporate an ingredient into as many entrees and appetizers as they could create in 45 minutes.
Although some preparation and precursory ideas were allowed at the competition Saturday, participants had to manipulate the ingredients before putting them on the plate.
"You have to prepare you pantry and bring your own pans and plates," said Chef Kate Rench of Cafe Diva, reigning champion of two years. "They only supply the secret ingredient and the stove.
First up were chefs from Chelsea's and Mambo Italiano who competed against each other while integrating scallops and Serrano peppers into taste sensations presented to four judges.
"After 45 minutes, hands off the plates. You can't touch them or do anything else," Rench said. "Then there is a coin toss, and whoever wins that shows the judges first."
From behind a Viking stove, Chelsea's won Round 1 and then had to challenge Rench of Cafe Diva.
The toughest part for Rench was the time clock and the announcers grilling them while they tried to concentrate.
Round 2 involved Colorado green beans and pork loin.
Rench created pork shumai with coconut green curry and made an heirloom tomato and blackened pork salad.
"I also made Kung Pao pork and surf and turf with garamasala crusted pork with a champagne grape and almond sauce," Rench said. "And shrimp and scallops with a roasted corn and bacon vinaigrette and goat cheese quick cake."
Rench has won the event three years in a row, and she said the experience continues to improve with time.
"It gets better every year," Rench said. "They get more and more organized. We were working off of a little portable stove the first year."