WFC Bacon Winner

A few years ago, I competed in the WFC Show Me Series. That is a Missouri state qualifier to earn a spot competing at the World Food Championships. I won the people’s choice vote and got a golden ticket. I went to Dallas and competed for the first time. It did not go well. Or at least, not as well as I would have liked it to have gone. But I gained valuable experience and I remember telling my friends, “I'll be back. And I'm going to win it all.”

Fast forward two years to 2021. We are all competing outdoors at the Boathouse in Forest Park at another Show Me Series event. I wasn't messing around. I made the dish that would win the night, earn me a golden ticket, and carry me through to an experience in Dallas that I will never forget – and one that would take me all the way to The Final Table.

The World Food Championships in Dallas is incredible. It's at Fair Park, home of the Cotton Bowl, inside Centennial Hall, a massive facility. Two massive kitchen arenas flank the turn-in stage. Hundreds and hundreds of chef teams there to compete in one of ten categories. Of course, bacon is the most coveted.

Missouri sent ten other Show Me Series contestants. We were quite the gang. On top of preparing to compete, I felt compelled to support my teammates. As they, me. Everyone that made the trip to compete had something to prove either to themselves or others. We were in many ways, brothers and sisters in arms. Working for a common goal: victory. We celebrated it as individuals and as a team.  The camaraderie there reaffirmed my passion for cooking; the results, my passion for competing; the results, my passion for competing.

I had a plan and amazing partners. I worked my dish, used my signature spice blend named and formulated to be a sweet and sassy little number with a touch of heat, just like my wife. Rachel’s Rub was all over my Bacon Seven Ways dish. I knew it would stand head and shoulders above the rest. And it did.

The dish that got me to Dallas is the same one that would take me to the Top 10, give me the win in the Bacon category—the World Bacon Champ--but better still, it would catapult me to the World Food Championships Final Table where I would have the chance to compete against nine others in the hopes of being named the World Food Champion and take home a hundred grand.

The WFC Final Table is without question one of the toughest challenges of my career in competitive cooking. Its contest structure is grueling. In the first round, all ten Category winners compete, then it is cut down to five, then to three. And every time to scores reset to zero. You have to nail it three times in a row. Which makes it a test of you AND your entire team.

I had the good fortune—and frankly, the difficult challenge—of choosing my sous chefs. For years, when I competed, I would go it alone or with minimal help. This was different. I wasn’t here for the participation ribbon. WFC challenges you to the very core. I felt that I had to examine every move that I might make. I sought out the perspective of friends and peers. I planned like nothing I’d ever planned before because nobody, and I mean nobody, wins the World Food Championships by winging it. So the structure of my team was critical. And man, did I have options.

During the regular competition, I was surrounded by the wildest collection of talent anyone in the industry could imagine. I loved the energy, the happiness, the nervous confidence. They were all from Missouri, most from Saint Louis. One young man really captured my attention. He was 19 when he won his Golden Ticket, 20 when he competed in Dallas and, I would later find out, an Executive Chef at 18. He carried himself like a much older, poised, and experienced professional. That was Juwan Rice, Chef JR to his buds, and his plate presentation was unparalleled. He was my first choice.

As a man in recovery, every day and every decision can be a challenge to my sobriety. It takes strength to be in this business and remain free of alcohol and drugs. So when I later learned that one of the most gifted sauciers I’ve ever known was also in the competition supporting the amazing Heidi Hamamura, I followed the signs. I watched as Pepe Khem spent the weekend not only sous for Heidi but offer his help to everyone and anyone who needed it. His passion is unrivaled—and sometimes unbridled—and that edginess can be a difference maker. He was the man that completed my team.

So there we were, ironically a sober trio, charting a path to the top. I learned a lot. About presentation. About sauces. About microgreens. About myself. I couldn’t have had a better team. We obsessed. We experimented. We laughed. We cried. Well, I cried. I do that. And when the time came, we waded into battle.  

The round of ten. The round of five. The round of three. Each time, the scores reset to zero. I came out on top on the first two, even beating out the World Burger Champ, a fellow Missourian, my former boss, my good friend, my respected peer, and one of the wildest men I’ve ever known, Mike Johnson. Then came the last challenge, the one with $100,000 on the far side of it.

The final round of the Final Table pitted me against Evette Raman, an accomplished pastry chef and beautiful soul, and Preston Nguyen, a 19-year old fearless prodigy from the Dallas culinary school, El Centro College. I was told later that everyone there presumed me to take it all. So when the results were announced, and the winner was young Preston, the first reaction in the room was a collective gasp.

Evette crafted a stunning dish. Team Jac Mac delivered a knockout. But Preston delivered a positively insane dish. He earned his victory and the respect of everyone in the World Food Championships. And a hundred grand – bravo!

And so I left Columbia, South Carolina and returned home as the World Bacon Champion, a great story of being second in the world, a warning to competitors to never let your foot of the gas, and this message to all: I’ll. Be. Back.