A former dishwasher and now a proud section chef of Marianas Resort & Spa was named Saipan's Next Top Chef, after besting three other contenders in a rigorous competition on Saturday at Pacific Islands Club.
Emmanuel Pancha's pan-seared Angus beef bathed with shallots and peppered mango sauce got the approving nod of the judges to walk off with the $200 cash and gift prizes.
Pancha complemented his creation with potato pancakes with mascarpone and vegetable spaghetti. The entire concoction garnered an overwhelming 94 points from the competition's judges.
He admitted to being a bit nervous when the competition started but he drew courage from the support extended by his colleagues and executive chef who were among those in the crowd.
Pancha shared that it was only recently when he decided to do the dish, which took some weeks to perfect. He said it was his goal to come up with a simple and elegant dish made up of the local produce. After the weeks of preparation, Pancha, 45, whipped out the dish in the allotted 20-minute cooking time for the competition.
A first-timer to the contest, he described the event as fun and truly an experience. When asked if his new creation will be offered at Marianas Resort & Spa, Pancha said it would be up to the company's executive chef.
Hailed as the second best chef this year is Joshua Ngeskebei from Pacific Islands Club while Jesse Aguon from Hyatt Regency Saipan placed third. The fourth competitor was Nemencio Tulio of Fiesta Resort & Spa Saipan.
According to Guam celebrity chef and event host Peter Duenas, all participants did a great job-from the preparation to the presentation of their dishes-which emphasized the use of local produce. He also noted that the competition was for a good cause.
Duenas is the celebrity host of “TV Outdoor Chef” in Guam and is owner/executive chef of Meskla Bistro. He plans to air the Saipan competition in the program's next season.
Shelli Neal, coordinator for the event, described the competition's turnout as “wonderful.” The Empty Vessel Ministry Foundation, she said, sold tickets way more than capacity. This mark's the second edition of the contest, the proceeds of which will help the nonprofit organization in its charitable projects.
PIC manager Vicky Benavente said that Chef Duenas' presence was a factor in the large number of sales tickets. PIC was among the event's major sponsors.