It’s not just about who makes the best pound cake or falafel.
The Chef's Challenge, which runs from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 24, at Excelsior Springs banquet house in Saratoga Springs, helps raise money for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Capital Region, a nonprofit that helps connect children facing adversity with mentors.
Chef Krista Espinal of Malcolm’s in Schenectady will go head to head with longtime winner chef Thomas Gulbrandsen of Excelsior Springs in an "Iron Chef"-style competition. A secret ingredient will be revealed at the start of the competition, and the chefs will have exactly one hour to make an appetizer, entree and dessert for four judges using the ingredient.
Gulbrandsen has been taking on chefs from across the region in challenges for the past four years.
“I grew up with eight brothers and sisters, so I was blessed to always have the support, guidance and friendship that comes with having older brothers and sisters to look up to, and help navigate you through childhood,” Gulbrandsen said. “A lot of children are not as fortunate as I was, so I am honored to be a part of this.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Capital Region connects roughly 600 youths with older “siblings” who can mentor them and form a strong supportive relationship with them. At least a few times a month, the "big" and "little" get together to go for a hike, read a book together, play a game of Frisbee, make a breakfast pizza -- the list goes on. The cost borne by the BBS organization is around $1,200 per mentorship.
They’re hoping the Chef’s Challenge can raise more than $45,000 to support 37 other mentorships.
The event won’t just be relying on the battle between Gulbrandsen and Espinal, either.
On top of the competition, there’s a People’s Choice Award up for grabs among seven other restaurants that will be there: Old Bryan Inn, 2 West Bar and Grill, Upstate Distilling, Fish at 30 Lake, Nothing Bundt Cakes, Nanolas and Harvey’s Restaurant and Bar. That competition is based on popular vote. They'll all compete to see who can go on to the "Iron Chef"-style challenge the following year.
Melissa Gleason, co-owner of Nothing Bundt Cakes, is hoping to take top honors this year with either her white chocolate raspberry cake, lemon cake, red velvet or chocolate chip cake.
“It’s an experience, Gleason said. “It’s fun to watch people try it for the first time."
Melissa and her husband, Matt, opened the franchise in Colonie in 2017. It’s the first in the area, and so far people seem to be gobbling up the decadent cakes, for which Gleason can’t give away the recipes (this reporter already asked).
“We’re constantly getting busier,” Gleason said.
Although Gleason's is a dessert-only restaurant, it will be in competition with Nanola’s mac and cheese dishes, which owner Shane Spillenger said have been popular at the restaurant.
It’s Nanola’s first time in the competition, and Spillenger said he’s happy to just be able to support the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization.
Admission to the Chef’s Challenge is $50 for young professionals (under age 30), $75 for general admission and $112.50 for two tickets. For information about the event, visit bbscr.org.