Todd Kelly, center, is congratulated on being named 2011 U.S.A.’s Chef of the Year™ by
representatives of Unilever Food Solutions, the award’s sponsor: Steve Jilleba, CMC, CCE,
AAC, corporate executive chef, left; and David Russell, CEC, AAC, division corporate chef.
beverage side of the industry. There, he
met Larry Stone, master sommelier, who
inspired him with a level of professional
knowledge that he now draws on to do his
job. “In that establishment, wine was as
important as the food,” Kelly says.
the rules carefully and do what it is that they
do well—not what they think judges want
to see—because that’s the secret to better-tasting food.
At home, Kelly enjoys the support of wife
Emily and daughters Madeline, 6, and
Megan, 3, who understand and are excited
by the honor their father received. He also
counts his older brother Brad as one of his
biggest inspirations. A longtime hospitality
professional and executive chef for Hilton
Virginia Beach Oceanfront, Brad Kelly
gets credit for instilling in his brother “the
chef’s attention to detail. He was very
demanding in the kitchen, and I see now
why he always wanted things a specific
way,” Todd Kelly says.
Kelly says he enjoyed cooking under the new
chef-of-the-year format. “It is truly reflective
of how we, as executive chefs, operate in
modern kitchens. This year, we were allowed
two assistants. In the industry, you would
meet with your team and explain the goals
and expectations. Then they gather the mise
en place, and we prepare it together.”
there were spreadsheets for equipment to
ship, and lists for food to send and shopping
lists for food to buy in Dallas. There were
diagrams of the ladder rack used to hold food
and equipment in the competition kitchen,
and timelines to meet during the competition.
There were even return packing lists for the
trip back home.
Grateful to all his mentors, Kelly gave
special thanks during his acceptance
speech to Michel Sheer. He thanked him
for the tremendous amount of support and
guidance he had received since arriving
in Cincinnati, and especially during the
time building up to this year’s competition.
John Kinsella, CMC, CCE, WGMC, AAC,
senior supervising chef at Midwest Culinary
Institute, Cincinnati, and ACF immediate
past president, has also been supportive
of Kelly, who says that although they had
never worked together, Kinsella inspires all
chefs by his professional example.
A week before the competition, competitors
learned that red snapper would be the
ingredient to be used in all four dishes. “I
planned to showcase the snapper in each
dish with a variety of techniques, flavors
and textures, moving through the meal with
a natural progression,” Kelly says. He adds
that it fits the way he and his team cook at
the hotel, where they construct menus, with
little notice, from the best ingredients in the
market, taking full advantage of the season.
As a floor judge this year, I can attest to Kelly’s
strength in the kitchen. His organization and
cleanliness were impeccable. At his place of
employment, he finds it necessary to carefully
plan every detail to achieve success, and he
credits organization for his most recent win.
With just 60 minutes to cook, there would be
no time for misplaced ingredients, forgotten
utensils or over-cooked snapper.
“I wish I’d had more time to practice, but when
you are told what the main ingredient is just
before the competition, you really have to rely
on your knowledge of the fundamentals and
keep it simple. As chefs, we always want to
add more components and complexity. This
format keeps everyone on the same playing
field by leaving little time to practice, so your
fundamentals determine your success.”
The ingredient list in Kelly’s recipe for success
included a few cups of support, a pound
of planning and a ton of determination.
Russell Scott is executive chef at Isleworth
Golf & Country Club, Windermere, Fla., and a
member of ACF Central Florida Chapter. He
was the 2008 U.S.A.’s Chef of the Year™.
ROAD TO SUCCESS
Looking back at the competition, the
perfectionist in Kelly says, “I would like to have
added more complexity to my program, but
simplicity was the key to winning.” For future
competitors, he recommends that they read
Three full practices and several mini practices
took place during the week leading up to the
competition, Kelly says. “More practice would
have helped, but there was just no time.”
Instead, the team went into planning mode.
Each team member had his own prep list,
The 2011 U.S.A.'s Chef of the Year™ award is
sponsored by Unilever Food Solutions