And then there was one — Fidi Rodriguez of Athens, GA, raised his tongs in triumph Thursday after out-grilling six finalists from around the country in LongHorn Steakhouse’s Steak Master Series to win first place, a $10,000 prize and ultimate bragging rights.
“I was shocked,” he said. “It’s just crazy!” He said his passion for cooking and his competitive edge might have put him over the top, and he planned to celebrate with his family at the beach this weekend. He also said he would donate a portion of his prize money.
Tyler Friend of York, PA (last year’s third-place winner), won second place, and Taryll Jordan of North Haven, CT, won third place, with prizes of $7,500 and $5,000 respectively.
“I’m excited to walk away with $7,500,” Tyler said. He said he would celebrate with his fellow Steak Masters and then again with his family and team back home. “This competition shows how much LongHorn Steakhouse cares about culinary team members and the work we do.”
Taryll was already looking ahead. “I plan to study, improve and be back here next year.”
LongHorn Steakhouse turned up the heat in the second year of its epic competition, awarding a total of $200,000 in prizes at all stages of the competition. The suspense was so thick it could be cut with a knife in the kitchen at Darden’s Restaurant Support Center in Orlando.
Each finalist had to grill six steaks and a lobster tail and plate six entrees including six side dishes in only 20 minutes. The steaks were of different cuts and grilled to different temperatures. As the finalists cooked, the judges peppered them with questions about their culinary knowledge.
Hours earlier, the finalists, dubbed “the Magnificent Seven” by LongHorn Steakhouse President Todd Burrowes, arrived to the deafening roar of about 1,000 team members lining a red carpet, cheering, blowing horns and ringing cowbells. He introduced them, decked out in special red chef coats, as “our heroes.”
“At LongHorn, one of our competitive advantages is our grilling expertise, so we go to extraordinary lengths to continue to certify and test our culinary team members,” he said.
“Congratulations on the unbelievable feat that brought you here,” said Darden CEO Gene Lee. He offered advice: “Do the best you can and enjoy the opportunity.”
The competition began in February, when 5,000 culinary team members from each of our more than 490 restaurants, including your local LongHorn Steakhouse, got a chance to showcase their grilling skills. In the first two rounds, 59 regional first-place winners were identified after written tests and judged culinary service rounds. After the next round, only the top seven finalists were left standing.
In addition to Fidi, Tyler and Taryll, four finalists tied for fourth place: Joe Kitchens of Merritt Island, FL; Julie Harwood of Liverpool, NY; Tim Roberts of Fargo, ND; and Michael Coates of Northglenn, CO. Each of them took home a $2,500 prize.