A Chinese-Peruvian dish of Lomo Saltado set apart one chef from the rest of the candidates seeking employment at N.Y.'s Zengo restaurant.
Food Network's competition show Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell found itself in her hometown of New York City.
Richard Sandoval has created and owns 34 restaurants but it was Zengo in the heart of Manhattan that needed a new executive chef.
The 18,000 square foot restaurant's menu fuses Latin and Asian dishes, and the chef who would win the job had to be able to create dishes that fit the bill on a consistent basis.
Of the four contestants, David Sears had a secret weapon that helped him land the job.
Sears, who cleaned up his personal life from one that led him into criminal behavior had become a solid citizen.
He married a Peruvian woman of Chinese descent and was about to become a father for the third time.
A native of the Bahamas and most recently a resident in Orlando, Florida, Sears was ready and able to win over the very savvy Richard Sandoval.
Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell takes four candidates and through two quick challenges, whittles the number in half.
The remaining chefs get one night each to create a new menu and run a dinner service for customers. At that end of the night, a new executive chef is hired on the spot.
Sears was more than ready for the first challenge which was to choose one Latin and one Asia country and prepare a fusion dish that would wow Zengo's owner.
He immediately snagged the countries of China and Peru from those listed and set about creating the best dish of the four presented.
When Chef Anne Burrell was checking Sears during the 45 minute preparation window for the first food challenge she learned along with us that Sears' wife's heritage would be coming in very handy.
Chef Sears created Lomo Saltado, a traditional Chinese-Peruvian dish. He told Burrell, "It is basically a stir-fry. I am going to do my own version of it."
Burrell asked if he had been to either country. It was then he revealed his connection to the cuisine. "Make your wife proud," Sears was told. "I'm sure she's sitting right there," Burrell said pointing to the chef candidate's shoulder.
"The marinade is the key to this dish," the chef told her as he cut up chunks of steak. Because the challenge only provided three-quarters of an hour Sears was hoping it would be enough to flavor the steak to the extent he wanted.
He needn't have worried as his dish of Lomo Saltado was the only one presented to Zengo's owner that wasn't criticized.
Much cumin was used as is common on Peruvian cooking and the steak had been marinated in hoisin and soy sauces. The beef was cut up into small pieces and served alongside similar sized chunks of vegetables garnished with watercress.
Chef Sears' night running the dinner service began in a disastrous fashion as his choices for that night's menu were criticized by both Sandoval and Burrell.
He melted down and had a bit of a walkout prior to getting himself straight and winning the competition. Link to a video of his time in the kitchen, here.
Update: Posted on the Food Network site was news that Sears turned down the opportunity at Zengo. He chose not to relocate his entire family to New York City. Read more about that here.
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