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Culinary showdown

Chefs whip up food magic with mystery ingredients

Created date

August 9th, 2016
Chefs Jesica Aguirre (left) and Joshua Raia compete in the chef showdown at Eagle’s Trace.

Chefs Jesica Aguirre (left) and Joshua Raia compete in the chef showdown at Eagle’s Trace.

Two chefs at Eagle’s Trace put their culinary skills to the test at the West Houston community’s version of Chopped, based on the popular Food Network reality show.

The event provided an opportunity for future residents of Eagle’s Trace to mingle and learn more about the community.

“Our newest independent living building, Amarillo Terrace, is scheduled to open in the fall of 2016,” says Sales Director Pam Burgeson. “The chef showdown provided an opportunity for those who have reserved an apartment in Amarillo Terrace to get acquainted.”

Mystery ingredients

Chefs Joshua Raia and Jesica Aguirre brought their talents out of the kitchen, setting up at two workstations in the center of the Garden Room Restaurant.

“These are two of the 400 staff members who will work hard to make your lives wonderful every day,” Executive Director Steve Aigner told the audience as he introduced the chefs. Aigner and Burgeson emceed the event.

To kick off the showdown, the two chefs opened mystery boxes, each containing four items for them to incorporate into their dishes. The mystery boxes contained crispy rice cereal, paddles from a prickly pear cactus (nopales), lemongrass, and a can of Spam.

To spice up the competition, Aigner announced a bonus ingredient just before the countdown clock began. Each chef was presented with a whole tilapia on ice. 

Guest judges

With that, the chefs were on the clock—45 minutes to prepare an entrée using all the mystery ingredients. To complete their dishes, Raia and Aguirre also had access to a variety of pantry items, including oils, vinegars, dairy products, fruits, vegetables, spices, and herbs.

Three guests of Eagle’s Trace judged the event. 

Broadcaster and philanthropist Cleverley Stone is the host of The Cleverley Show on CBS SportsRadio 650 and a food segment contributor to Houston’s Fox 26 Morning News. She is also the founder of Houston Restaurant Weeks.

Michelle Bohreer is a trial lawyer with Bohreer and Zucker LLP. She has served on the Eagle’s Trace board of directors for the past five years. 

Connie Rudloff is the branch manager for the Compass Bank location at Eagle’s Trace.

“I’m looking at several factors,” Stone said as she kept a keen eye trained on the chefs. “I’m looking for cleanliness and a beautiful presentation. I’m also watching to see if the chefs taste their ingredients along the way. You can’t cook with something if you don’t know how it tastes.”

“I’d like to see a pretty plate that tastes good,” said Bohreer.

Cooking under pressure

Both chefs began filleting their fish. Raia created a crust for the tilapia using crushed crispy rice cereal. Aguirre turned her attention to crafting a sauce for the fish. Both chefs combined the cactus and Spam, a unique pairing that caught the judges’ attention.

“The combination of Spam and nopales is absolutely delicious on both counts,” said Stone, as she sampled each chef’s dish at the end of 45 minutes. “There’s an art to cooking, and both of you have amazing culinary careers ahead of you.”

“You’ve managed to take very different ingredients and create these wonderful flavors,” Rudloff told the chefs.

Each entrée was scored on three counts—execution, presentation, and taste. In the end, Raia’s dish edged out Aguirre’s creation.

Meanwhile, event guests feasted on their own culinary delights while they watched the chefs work. The lunch menu featured steak and lobster tails, followed by a berry tart. 

“The lunch was out of this world, the cooking challenge was first class, and the commentary from staff and judges was spot on,” says Sandy Wills, who has reserved an apartment on the third floor of Amarillo Terrace with husband Tom.

Meeting new neighbors

Over the course of the afternoon, Amarillo Terrace reservists had the opportunity to meet their new neighbors, giving rise to the first inklings of social connections within the new building. Tom and Sandy met their next-door neighbor-to-be Mercedes McKinna.

“Creating connections for residents is important,” says Burgeson. “The design of Amarillo Terrace features bright, open spaces ideally suited for socializing.”

The new residence building will house 108 apartments in 17 new floor plans, highlighting open-concept living areas and thoughtful details like granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, and screened-in porches and patios.

“Upscale dining venues are another major component planned for Amarillo Terrace, including a spacious restaurant, a lounge for happy hours, and outdoor patio dining,” says Burgeson. “Residents enjoy our 70-acre campus with its beautiful scenery and lakeside charm. Alfresco dining will only add to that small-town experience.”