Monday, March 14, 2011

Chef Eric Villegas Named Master of Ceremonies for Chefs Challenge, April 29-30 at Boyne Mountain

Emmy-Award winning Chef Eric Villegas – star of the PBS show “Fork in the Road” and the award-winning companion cookbook of the same name – has been named Master of Ceremonies for the “Iron Chef Competition” to be held Saturday, April 30 at Boyne Mountain in Boyne City, Michigan, as the culmination of the Chefs Challenge weekend.

Award winning chef-restaurateur, cookbook author and television personality Eric Villegas has done more than any other culinarian to introduce the country to the regional and local foods of his beloved Michigan and the Great Lakes. The Michigan born chef embarked on his culinary career after studying liberal arts at Michigan State University. Moving to Paris, France he attended Anne Willan’s LaVarenne Ecole de Cuisine and Steven Spurrier’s Academie du Vin. After which he gained a wide range of practical cooking experience in the classic restaurant kitchens of France’s gastronomic capital, Lyon.

After two years abroad, Chef Villegas returned to the States to continue his studies at the New England Culinary Institute, where he specialized in the service aspect of hospitality running the school’s flagship dining room. From 1987 to 2007, chef Villegas owned and operated two of mid-Michigan's most unique award winning regional restaurants, Dusty's Wine Bar and his eponymous flagship, Restaurant Villegas where working closely with local farmers and ranchers he developed his now highly recognized contemporary Midwestern style.

Since debuting on Michigan public television in 2001, Villegas has been tirelessly seeking out the artisan growers, farmers and ranchers that continuously produce top quality foods for the American table. “Fork in the Road with Eric Villegas” also brought recipes, cooking tips and culinary history based on the Great Lakes food scene. Originally airing weekly on PBS in his home state of Michigan and Canada, his efforts brought the chef two regional EMMY awards as host for popular show. In late 2007 "Fork" began national distribution via NETA on PBS offering his unique take on regional and sustainable Michigan agriculture and cuisine to the rest of the country.

The long awaited companion cookbook to the award winning series hit store shelves in late 2007 and immediately garnered the chef another award as being listed as one of Michigan's most notable books of the year.

In 2011 Chef Villegas teamed up with Reader’s Digest's culinary juggernaut, Taste of Home. Boasting the largest circulation of any cooking magazine in the world, the Taste of Home Cooking School will have chef crisscrossing the country hosting up to 2500 eager guests for a standing room only two hour cooking classes.

Closer to home Chef Villegas also returned to his roots in the kitchen. Now, as the Culinary Director of the Michigan Brewing Company, Chef will be designing all new recipes and menus for the original brewery and its growing number of pubs all – of which will utilize the brewery's award winning beers, coupled with Chef’s unique local style.

The "Culinary Compound" is Chef Villegas' aptly named culinary headquarters and homestead that he shares with his growing family, fiance Dana and their children Taylor and baby Sophia. On any given day, you might find him testing recipes for his growing roster of culinary clients in-between making school lunches and heating baby bottles.

A highly sought after public speaker Chef Villegas keeps the rest of his culinary calendar full with cooking demonstrations, book signings and public appearances throughout the Great Lake State and the rest of the country. In recent years, he’s been a featured chef at the Epicurean Classic in Traverse City and the Grand Rapids International Wine & Food Festival. While he oversees many projects, each is infused with his culinary passion – all the while reminding everyone watching, reading or listening to "think global but to buy and eat local!"

The Chefs Challenge competition, inspired by the cult sensation Iron Chef America and the famous “Secret Ingredient,” is the culinary must-attend event of the year in Northern Michigan. The food competitions are designed to showcase Michigan food and drink products and their creative applications in a meal. It is an opportunity for Michigan establishments to showcase their talents and gain exposure for their establishment, while raising funds for Challenge Mountain.

Chefs Challenge kicks off on Friday, April 29 (6-10pm) with a Meet & Greet reception at the Snowflake Lounge in the clock Tower Lodge and the High School Competition where eight schools from across the state participate in two categories: desserts and appetizers, which are then judged by the public and the panel of judges, respectively.

On Saturday, activities between at 9:45am with Seminars and the Michigan Food & Beverage Vendor Showcase, followed by the Tasting Competition, and of course, the Iron Chef Cook-Off & Dinner, followed by the Presentation of the Awards of the Chefs Challenge Winner.

The entire weekend benefits nearby Challenge Mountain – a non-profit 501(c)3 organization which provides adaptive outdoor recreational opportunities to people with special needs and their families, free of charge. For more than 25 years, Challenge Mountain has been dedicated to providing a venue for sports, outdoor recreation, and leisure skills to those with physical disabilities or mental challenges. The goal of all programs is to help create happy, healthy and longer lives.

The public is invited to join in the weekend’s festivities. Costs are:

** Friday night Welcome Reception & High School Competition: $10 per person

** Saturday Tasting Competition: 8 tickets for $25 (Additional tickets, quantities of 4 for $15 or 8 for $25)

** Saturday Night Iron Chef Cook-Off & Dinner: $60 per person online in advance; $75 per person at the door

Lodging packages are available at Boyne Mountain starting at $67 for hotel accommodations and $118 for Mountain Grand Lodge and Spa. Call 800-GO-BOYNE (462-6963) and ask for “Chefs Challenge” rate.

For more information on Chefs Challenge, including the list of teams, judges, seminars and more, log onto For more on Challenge Mountain, visit

KEY SPONSOR: Farm Bureau Insurance

SPONSORS: Boyne Mountain, Syngifi Networks, Koegel's, Edible Grande Traverse, Pioneer Sugar

Tapas Sponsors: Karen's Uniforms | Bay Home Medical | Local Flavors | Glen's Market Boyne City

Service Sponsors: Bob Mathers Ford - Boyne City

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