Michelle Cerveny’s name has been seared in history as the first woman to win LongHorn Steakhouse’s Steak Master Series after she out-grilled six finalists from around the country Thursday, walking away with a $10,000 prize and ultimate bragging rights.
“I’m humbled, overjoyed and in shock,” said Michelle of Cuyahoga Falls, OH. “I never win anything. This means the world to me. It’s not about being a man or a woman, it comes down to skill.” She said a female winner shouldn’t be surprising, though. “Who has been in the kitchen since we were small? My mom taught me to cook.” The champion said her boyfriend has already cleared a special place in their home for her trophy.
Kimberly Markley of East Wichita, KS, won second place, and Juan Sacramento of Sanford, FL, won third place, with prizes of $7,500 and $5,000 respectively.
“I’m overwhelmed,” Kimberly said, “and having Michelle win the top prize was just as exciting as if I had won it. I cried last year when I saw that the finalists included a woman.” She said she works with talented women in her restaurant kitchen who serve as powerful role models — their signatures graced the T-shirt under her chef coat.
Juan said he was pleased with the outcome. “This is one of the best experiences I’ve had during my entire restaurant career. I know my team members are happy for me. Whether I’m cooking steaks or burgers or washing dishes, I always want to be the best.”
LongHorn Steakhouse turned up the heat in the third year of its epic competition, awarding more than $200,000 in prizes at all stages of the competition. The kitchen at Darden’s Restaurant Support Center in Orlando, FL, was sizzling with tension during the final competition.
Each finalist had to grill six steaks, prepare four side dishes, and plate the entrees and 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. The steaks were judged based on grill preparation, selection of the perfect cut, boldness of seasoning, and grilling to the perfect degree of doneness.
Hours earlier, the finalists, dubbed the Magnificent Seven by LongHorn Steakhouse President Todd Burrowes, arrived to the roar of more than 1,000 team members lining a red carpet, cheering, blowing horns and ringing cowbells. “Nothing we do is more important than steak,” Todd said before introducing the finalists, decked out in red chef coats. “These Magnificent Seven are truly the best of the best. This is not just an individual achievement, but a restaurant achievement, so this year, in a break from tradition, we have invited their managing partners here to recognize the achievement and offer their support.”
“To all of us, you’re already champions,” said Darden CEO Gene Lee. “My advice to you is to enjoy the day and take it all in. Do your best but enjoy the process, the people and the camaraderie. You’ll remember this day as long as you live. Let the Steak Master games begin!”
The contest started in February, when thousands of grill cooks from our LongHorn Steakhouse restaurants across the country vied for the chance to be named champion. The excitement built as they put their skills to the test until only the Final Seven were left standing.
Four finalists tied for fourth place: Alex Alvarado-Negrete of Hiram, GA, who was the first-ever champion in 2016; Ed Ortiz of Millville, NJ; Assan Jallow of Louisville, KY, the second-place finisher in 2016; and Dylan Wike of Easley, SC. Each of them took home a $2,500 prize.
“I’m blown away by how much LongHorn Steakhouse has put into this competition,” Michelle said. “Every step of the way has been impressive. Darden and LongHorn would move mountains for us if we asked them to.”