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 JOSEPH COLEMAN
Who was your biggest influence?
My grandpa in the Philippines. I spent six years there. My grandfather was a chef, and he would wake me up at 5:00 in the morning, and we would go to a local fish market and then the butcher, just to see all these things. It smelled awful, but it was so much fun.
If you really had to impress someone, what dish would you cook?
I probably would go with Ahi tuna. I love that one. It’s one of my favorite dishes. I crust it with fresh herbs and some dijon mustard and sear it from the sides and pour a sauce to make it juicy. I think that’s one of my strongest dishes.
What food trend are you into right now?
One thing I have been getting into is molecular food. It’s probably my go-to thing now, liquid gels, using liquid nitrogen for desserts and flavors and stuff. Food science is a lot of fun.
Chef Joseph Coleman sits down for an interview with his trusty sous-chef Geovanny Villagran directly to his left. It’s a visible indication of the team-first mentality Coleman brings to his kitchen and the Diamond Chef competition.
“In a kitchen, the worst person that you have, that’s about as good a chef as you are,” Coleman explains. “[Geo] doesn’t have a problem telling me ‘I don’t know about that’ or ‘Let’s try something else.’ He has no issue with that. Most guys that work as a sous are just trying to please even though they feel otherwise.”
Both men bring an international background to their craft. Coleman, a military brat, moved around until his family was stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base, which proved to be for the long haul. He started his culinary training out of state, but returned to Arkansas and finished at UA-Pulaski Tech. An entry level position at the Marriott Hotel beckoned, and he’s been here ever since.
Villagran a native of Mexico, learned to cook at the arm of his grandmother but didn’t pursue it professionally until about four years ago. He joined Coleman’s team in 2018. Neither man has competed in Diamond Chef before, but neither are they letting the pressure of the moment get to them.
“Since the beginning, we work perfectly together,” Villagran says. “Some days [Coleman] brings a new menu or something like that, and I can catch it immediately. It’s like, OK, I have that idea. We are on the same channel.”
“One thing I wanted to bring to the table is that it’s a team effort with me and him,” Coleman says. “If we win, great. If we lose, then we want to go back. This is for us. We’re the underdogs. We have a lot to prove.”