Five finalists to forge ahead in quest to be Vero’s Top Chef

VERO BEACH — Eleven of the area’s scrumptiously talented chefs demonstrated their “slice, dice & spice” skills, at the Vero’s Top Chef Qualifying Event, held Monday night at The Club at Pointe West. They were all competing for the chance to ultimately win the coveted title of Vero’s Top Chef at the Vero’s Top Chef Challenge later this month. 

Only in its third year, the two-part event to benefit the Homeless Family Center has quickly grown in popularity, selling out weeks ahead of time. At the end of the night, the three lady chefs competing had each won a spot as a top finalist.  The five chefs who will go on to compete at the final event on Monday, Feb. 28 at the Quail Valley River Club, are River Grille’s Michele Hennessey, who was the 2009 Vero’s Top Chef Champion and the only finalist selected all three years, Andrew Keller of The Club at Pointe West, Brian Jones from Windsor, and first-time contestants Jane Faraco of STAX, and Adrienne Drew, owner of Catering by Adrienne Drew.

“It’s a great distraction in this rough economy,” said Michele Hennessy, excited at being a finalist once more. “And it’s a great way to get together with all the other chefs.”

The enthusiastic crowd of more than 250 guests bustled through the Club; eagerly sampling the multitude of culinary delights, as chefs and their assistants artistically replenished the delectable dishes. 

And, after making the rounds, each had the chance to vote for their favorite Top Chef.

“They’re really trying to out-do each other this year,” said Chef Joe Faria, Executive Chef of Quail Valley River Club and Chef Coordinator of the event.   “They’re going all out; pouring their hearts into it.  They are also definitely more organized this year.”

Over the next week, the chefs will submit two entree items, of seafood or meat, to Chef Faria, who will coordinate the final menu and then select wines to go along with the dishes.

“Gordon Food Services donated all the food for the chefs,” added Faria.  “They donated more than $5,500 in really high end products just for this event and will also donate all the food for the finals.  They deserve a big round of applause for what they have done.”

The Gordon family still runs the 111-year-old firm, and its CEO Dan Gordon is a part-time resident of Vero Beach.

“They’re very big on giving back to the community,” said John Costello, a representative of the firm’s Florida Division.

Co-chairs Denise Finizio and Neda Heeter were all smiles at the end of the evening, delighted with the overall success of the event.

“Everything seemed to go a little smoother this year,” said Finizio.  “We eliminated the band, and moved things around to help it flow better.  We also changed the voting process to one vote per person instead of five.”

“I thought the chefs were all more creative than ever in what they served and in their presentations,” added Heeter.

The other wonderfully gifted chefs who competed in the Top Chef Qualifying Event were 2010 Vero’s Top Chef Champion Nick Bradbury of Quail Valley River Club, Gregg DeAquair from Dockside Grill,  Brian Lavergne of Sonya’s at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, Raymond Mumford from Costa d’Este, Bradley Willits of Cobalt at the Vero Beach Hotel and Spa, and Patrick Hughes from Riverside Café.

“We’re so overwhelmed by the support from the public and the chefs for the Homeless Family Center,” said HFC Executive Director Lorne Coyle.  “In doing something good for others, everyone also had a lot of fun.” {igallery 335}

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