Hyatt Good Taste Series Cooks Up Competition and Camaraderie
The fourth-annual Hyatt Good Taste Series wrapped up its Americas competition this week at Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort in New Mexico. Two winners were chosen from 11 contestants: Joaquin Estolano, sous chef from Andaz West Hollywood, and Hunter Keels, junior sous chef butcher at Hyatt Regency Atlanta. Each received $2,000 in prize money, and will advance to the Good Taste Series finals in early 2018, where they’ll compete against Hyatt culinary competition from around the world.
I was honored to be one of four judges at this year’s contest, tasting two dishes from each chef—a total of 22—scoring for taste, presentation, and how each chef explains the inspiration behind their creations.
The competition was sponsored by Pepsi; Hormel; Pillsbury; DanoneWave; Sausages by Amylu; Ecolab; Distribution Market Advantage (DMA); Oneida; and Villeroy & Boch. Each contestant was required to creatively incorporate ingredients from several sponsors, including pork from Hormel, Kevita kombucha from Pepsi, and puff pastry from Pillsbury, plus New Mexico ingredients like hatch chiles and wild mushrooms.
Finalists this year also had a chance to experience New Mexico culture and cuisine in the days before the contest, taking a ride in a hot air balloon, visiting the ancient Pueblo city of Acoma, eating authentic New Mexican dishes at the historic El Pinto restaurant, and watching a rodeo near Hyatt Tamaya's onsite stables, where the resort adopts and cares for more than 90 rescue horses.
The Good Taste Series is only open to non-executive chefs within Hyatt, and several hundred culinarians at the company competed in multiple regional competitions before the Americas finals in New Mexico. The same template is applied to Hyatt’s Asian and European regions this year for the first time, leading to the inaugural Good Taste global finals.
The spirit of camaraderie I've witnessed previously among contestants--even after the competition--was evident in New Mexico as well. With the addition of a global finals this year, the Americas contestants are rallying around Estolano and Keels. At a post-contest reception, Joel Herrera, culinary supervisor at Grand Hyatt San Antonio and one of this year's Americas finalists, summed up the bond created during the week by announcing to Estolano and Keels that, "you're representing us all now" at the global finals.
Hyatt created the Good Taste Series to give their budding kitchen talent a chance to express their culinary creativity, while helping Hyatt retain those people in an increasingly competitive job market. For more details and a comprehensive look at how Hyatt has benefitted from the Good Taste Series, read our cover story from January/February 2016 here.
(All photos in the gallery above except the magazine cover were taken by Jerry Walters at 3Dcats Studio Photography.)