Photography by Ebony Blevins and Jeremy Smith
The final field of competitors in the 2019 Diamond Chef competition has been set. The event benefits the University of Arkansas – Pulaski Technical College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute and has become a standout on Little Rock’s social calendar.
“This event literally appeals to everybody,” says Adora Curry, coordinator. “If you’re a tourist coming to Arkansas and you just want to know what the state is about, if you are a big-time foodie, if you’re a supporter of education, it’s for you. There’s something for everybody.”
The finals will be contested April 11 at UA-PTC’s Culinary Institute the college’s Culinary Arts & Hospitality Management Institute, 13000 I-30 Frontage Road between Little Rock and Bryant. In addition to the competition itself, patrons will enjoy tasty fare from food and mixology stations throughout the evening. Tickets can be purchased online at UAPTC.edu/DiamondChef or by calling Curry directly at (501) 812-2771.
AY took the time to sit down with this year’s finalists to learn a little bit about their careers, their introduction to food and the key ingredients that fuel their passion and skill in the kitchen.
KEY INGREDIENTS WITH CHEF BRANDON DOUGLAS
What’s your go-to make and model of knife?
I like a 9-inch chef’s knife that’s sharp. My favorite knife is a new one. I actually have one that I’ve only used one time that I’m saving to use for Diamond Chef.
Is there a cooking region you haven’t explored yet?
I’d like to learn more about Hawaiian food. I recently did a cooking class where the whole theme was Hawaii. I was 100 percent intrigued by how much variety there is in that little island chain.
If you knew it was your last meal, what’s on the menu?
Chicken fried steak comes to mind right away. I don’t eat it often, but I love good old-fashioned chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, the whole thing. Sounds simple, but I love it.
Just a few steps from the entrance of Greenleaf Grill in downtown Little Rock, two massive LED signs flash the day’s menu beckoning, “Come see what Chef Brandon has created today.”
The invitation is apt, given the restaurant’s fare changes daily. Today’s Greek-flavored salad bar and Italian entrée will give way to tomorrow’s Asian stir-fry and Southern comfort food. It’s a prime showplace for the versatility of the Canadian-born, Arkansas-raised chef.
“Greenleaf Grill really keeps me on my toes on any given day,” he says. “I could have three to four different varieties of food on the menu from different regions of the world. It’s also a challenge to provide healthier eating options, you know, how can we do that and still keep it interesting.”
It’s not just time on the job that’s honed Douglas’ versatility – he’s been a chef for more than a decade – his very roots in cooking trend toward the broader spectrum of food.
“I grew up in Mena, and my grandma was an excellent cook. Mom was a good cook, too,” he says. “I vividly remember helping them in the kitchen over the holidays. I was just playing around then; I had really no idea I would want to make this a career. I just really enjoyed it.”
While attending Henderson State University, from which he graduated with a communications degree in 2000, Douglas regularly cooked for friends and discovered a knack for turning out one great meal after another no matter what the genre. He also had an untiring work ethic by the time he completed his culinary apprenticeship in Little Rock (the forerunner to UA-Pulaski Tech) he’d already landed a job as an executive chef.
His advice to aspiring chefs mirrors his mantra heading into the Diamond Chef competition.
“Practice, practice, practice, man” he says. “I’m just excited to have the opportunity.”