Cornelius “Neil” Rogers Wins Worcester’s Best Chef Competition
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Chef Cornelius "Neil" Rogers of Volturno Pizza
on Shrewsbury Street is Worcester's Best Chef for 2014.
Rogers was tabbed as the competition's winner by a panel of local celebrity judges, beating out more than twenty other local chefs, in his first year of competition.
The event is not only about a healthy competition between culinary experts, but also about benefiting the community. Proceeds from the event benefit culinary students at the Worcester Vocational High School.
See GoLocalWorcester's interview with Chef Rogers and the rest of Worcester's Best Chef competitiors here
2014 Worcester's Best Chef Award Winners
Overall Winner: Chef Cornelius "Neil" Rogers - Volturno Pizza
2nd Place: Matt Dion - Rovezzi's Ristorante
3rd Place: Damian Evangelous - Armsby Abbey
People's Choice Winners
1st Place: Rafael Guzman Cruz - Two Chefs
2nd Place: Matt Dion - Rovezzi's Ristorante
3rd Place: Cathy Young - EVO Dining
Related Slideshow: The Best Chefs in Central Massachusetts
This Sunday, at Mechanic's Hall in Worcester, twenty-two local chefs will be competing in the 2014 Worcester Best Chef Competition. GoLocalWorcester spoke to many of these chefs about their thoughts on the competition, favorite dishes, and more.
We were unable to reach two of the competitors: Ethan Cramer, of Zorba's Taverna, Worcester; and Ken Yokimura, of Sturbridge Seafood, Sturbridge.
“I think that being a chef is in my blood; the lineage of chefs in my family runs deep. As a child, I remember most kids mowing lawns to buy candy and things like that. I was kind of strange; I was using that money for fresh oysters.”
“I have entered every competition since the first. It really is a blast. It’s one of the few times that all of us chefs from the Worcester area can get together and have a good time.”
“I don’t really get the chance to dine out that much; most of my food is eaten at the restaurant. It’s probably for the best because I am one of the biggest food critics out there.”
Bushel N’ Peck
“I try to use as many local ingredients as possible in my cooking. We have a good relationship with Potter Hill Farm so we try to use whatever fresh ingredients as possible.”
“My wife and I try to eat at home as much as possible and we try to eat as healthy as possible. When we do dine out some of our favorite restaurants include Prezo in Milford and Bocado in Worcester.”
“I would describe my style of cooking as taking classic dishes and twisting them in a healthy-creative way.”
“My favorite foods to make are comfort foods. Comfort foods make people happy and that’s why I’m in this business.”
“My dad was out of work in the 80s and used to rent Julia Child videos. When I came home from school we would watch them and then cook dinner for my mom.”
“There are a handful of places in Worcester as well as Boston that I really enjoy eating at. I went to New York recently just to eat.”
“My favorite season for food would have to be fall. I like how the cold weather allows for these slow-cooked and comfort meals.”
“I’ve loved food since I was a child. We didn’t have a lot of food around the house so we cherished every meal.”
“I prefer to cook at home around people, usually with a nice bottle of wine or a few brews. But when I dine out, I prefer the small ethnic mom and pop places.”
-comments from chef/co-owner Albert Maykel
”I have been working with her for about six years now. [Her cooking style] is very comfort-oriented. She is a quick learner and very intelligent in the kitchen. She is a very hard working person and cares about the food that she makes. If she says true to her skills then I think she has a great shot [at the competition].”
“I went to automotive school; it made me realize how much I liked cooking. It also made me realize what I was good at. From then on, I was able to be a chef with a clear head.”
“I grew up with my father being a chef. I kind up grew up in the industry. I remember peeling 400 potatoes as a kid and as I got older I had different jobs throughout the industry. Cooking was all I knew so it was all I did.”
“Who doesn’t like pork? I also enjoy the process of letting something sit in the fridge for 30 days; it’s a lot of fun. Making your own pasta can be a lot of fun as well.”
Flying Water Cafe & Watering Hole
“I love making soups. It’s a great combination of different flavors. Also, you can turn almost anything into a soup. I remember the first time a customer tried one of my soups and they said that it was great and they would come back for more; from that point on, I was hooked.”
“I absolutely love fresh herbs. You can gear them toward any season. They are a great multipurpose ingredient.”
“I love a good homemade brick-oven pizza, but due to my hours I don’t get to cook at home as much as I would like. My wife is a great cook though; she usually has something good waiting for me when I get home.”
“Being a chef, you have to like and be willing to cook anything. Everyone may have a favorite dish or a specialty, but a great chef can make anything.”
“I don’t see it as a competition; I see it as a gathering. We are coming together to try our best and to be here for the customers. I am proud of us making a day to come together and be there for the community.”
“The best season has to be September and October. The produce, fruits, and fish are at their freshest; it’s all right there. Autumn is the heaven of the year. It’s better to get fresh local ingredients than to have them shipped to you because they aren’t in season.”
Rafael Guzman Cruz
Two Chefs Restaurant & Pastry Shop
“I don’t get to make it very often, but I like to make offal and sweet bread. Offal [the internal organs and entrails of an animal] has a more concentrated flavor in the meat than something like steak.”
“It was great to learn how to make pizza dough. It is cool to see how a few simple ingredients will transform into a crispy form of bread. It was the first time I thought about the science behind food.”
“Cooking was a way for me to express myself; I was introverted as a child. The kitchen was a great place because it became my own little world. I really liked cooking with my grandmother as a child; we did a lot of cooking with root vegetables and chicken.”
“I remember my first day in the kitchen; I almost chopped my palm of with the mandolin.”
“I’m going to show the people what I am made of.”
“We pretty much like to cook at home; my girl is also a good cook.”
“My favorite dish is a big ol’ steak; I’m old fashioned like that: meat and potatoes. I grew up on a farm so we used to eat steaks from our own cows.”
“I’m known for my hot sauces; I’m a huge pepper-head. I love using a lot of hot peppers in my cooking.”
“My first childhood memory would have to be making meatballs in my dad’s kitchen when I was about eight. I also remember being in my 20s out in Michigan. I remember the chef using a lot of fresh and local ingredients which was really inspiring.”
The Goddard House
“I love making sautés. I like them because you get to add one ingredient at a time. The process just creates a burst of flavor.”
“I’m ridiculous but I like everything when it comes to food, except for other people’s cooking. I also don’t like junk food; I’ll maybe have some popcorn every now and then but that’s about it.”
“Butter and salt are the biggest things for me. I also like cooking with garlic and onions. I’m big into sweet and savory dishes and I like to balance out my meals to fit that palate.”
“I enjoy pretty much everything [when it comes to eating]. That’s why I’m in this business; I enjoy food.”
“I like to cook lamb shank. I love the way that it tastes and how it cooks.”
“I like cooking with lemon and garlic. You can use them for almost anything.”
Dean Della Ventura
“I’m kind of an Italian guy when I cook, but I’m a meat and potato guy at heart.”
“I’m definitely looking forward to the competition. I think I have a good opportunity to sweep. There are a lot of young bucks in the competition but I’m ready. It should be a fun time.”
“I remember being in my grandmother’s kitchen. I remember watching her stir the sauce and making the meatballs and the pasta. Occasionally my brother and I would try to sneak a taste and we would end up getting slapped with a wooden spoon.”
"If you see me, you will know that I enjoy everything; I'm always willing to try [any food] once. And if I don't like it, I usually try it a second time."
"My favorite season, absolutely, is fall. I have my own garden at the restaurant and at my house and fall is the best time for fresh fruits and vegetables. I also like the fall because all of my spring vegetables have been pickled or preserved. I just love fresh and local ingredients; I try not to use anything with GMOs in it."
"This competition is a great event for all the local chefs. Something Dom [Dominic Mercurio, founder of the event] does well is he brings in kids from the Worcester Vocational High School to help out. For me, it's all about the kids."
“I don’t like to do the same thing twice. I think every time I cook is an opportunity to try something new.”
“My favorite season would have to be summer because of all the fresh fruits and veggies; that’s my thing. I also like cooking with animal fats because they have a nice, robust flavor that you can’t get with butter or oil.”
“I was overweight as a kid and there became a time when I didn’t want to eat my mom’s cooking anymore. She told me that if I didn’t want to eat her food I would have to cook myself.”
Park Grill & Spirits Bar
”My favorite season, in general, is late summer, specifically late August to early September. Fruits and veggies are readily available and at their best. It really is the best time to be a chef.”
“I’m super excited. This is my 4th year in the competition. Normally chefs are locked in the restaurant, so it is a refreshing change to be in a room among peers. I thrive on competition, as I think most chefs do.”
“My favorite place to eat is at my own dining room table with my two boys and my wife.”
“I love this industry. It is very capturing and I love the excitement. There is also a lot of hard work and comradery which I love.”
“I remember my grandmother always cooking when I was a child. Every day after school there would always be cookies or brownies or something being cooked.”
“I love Vietnamese food. The food is just incredible. I try to eat it at least once a month.”
“I just want to have fun and have a good time. It is a great place to meet people. My main focus in this competition is not to win, just to have fun. This is my first time in this competition and I’m definitely a little nervous.”
“I’m a big seafood guy; anything with seafood is great. The more seafood you can fit on my plate the better.”
“I grew up with my grandmother and she cooked every day, twice a day: lunch and dinner. At one point I decided it was something I wanted to do and I got hooked.”
"Whatever season we are in is my favorite season. I think every season has its perks. Every time a new season comes around I get excited to cook."
"I was pretty young when I decided that I wanted to cook. It all started with me watching shows like Emeril Lagasse and Mario Batali on the Food Network."
"I'm pretty excited for the competition. This will be the first time anyone from Armsby Abbey will be competing; I feel confident."
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