Winner gets $10K; one royal judge hails from Buckingham Palace
By Donna Hill
For the Fort Bend Star
It was a royal banquet fit for a king – or a queen.
Last week, nine chefs cooked their best culinary creations of chicken, and pork and shrimp, and battled it out in the kitchens at Ben E. Keith Gulf Coast, a food distributor in Missouri City, eager to win the first ever $10,000 Kings’s Beard Award for the Texas Renaissance Festival. Royal food tasting judges were Chef Darren McGrady – former personal chef to Queen Elizabeth II, Diana, Princess of Wales, and Princes William and Henry; Jacque Fox, chef and restaurant owner; Gwendolyn Knapp, Houston Press; Ken Hoffman, Culture Map and Phaedra Cook, Houston Food Finder. The winning dish will be added to the 2018 Renaissance Festival’s annual season menu.
Robin Mueller from Round Rock won the prize with her Bierock, a warm, slightly salted yeast roll filled with savory beef, onion, cabbages and a schmear of spicy mustard. Bierock (pronounced Brock or Brook or Beer-Rock, depending on where you’re from) is an Oktoberfest fan favorite, or maybe now the kind of dish a king or a peasant would eat at the Texas Renaissance Festival.
It’s a good hand warmer, too commented Mueller.
“You’ll probably want to keep a hand free to accompany this decadent roll with a large pint of beer,” she said.
Mueller has worked for nearly 30 years as a professional cake decorator. She also works as a special needs chef, prepping organic vegetarian and gluten-free entrees for clients with food sensitivities, and who also are on the Autism spectrum.
Organizer Travis Bryant, director of marketing and public relations for the festival, sees the event as much as a food festival as anything else.
“Innovative food vendors come up with interesting food creations,” Bryant said. “So we thought wouldn’t it be great to get an outsiders angle on creating a festival food? We challenged each one of our food vendors to bring in new ideas on foods offered. That’s how the royal chef was born. We put out on social media that we were looking for the ‘king’s next royal chef,’ specifically a signature food, and there would be a $10,000 prize. We wanted to find 10 people who were trained as chefs, and had experience as well.”
Noting the amount of visitors at the Texas Renaissance Festival, the winning dish had to be food that could be reproduced on a big scale.
“We average over 25,000 to 30,000 people a day at the Renaissance Festival. So we needed chefs who would be able to understand the scale of food produced,” Bryant said.
After 10 chefs were chosen, they met with the TRF vendors, but hit a snag with the weather.
“We originally scheduled the Royal Chef Showdown on Aug. 30, which is when (Hurricane) Harvey hit, so we had to postpone the final, which meant a lot of juggling. The festival is underway now, but the winner will have their signature dish available for the 2018 Renaissance Festival,” Bryant said.
After the event, Houston food enthusiast Ken Hoffman noted, “What I enjoyed was the winning entree which was like a kolache, it had a lot of great things in it.”
Former Buckingham Palace chef Darren McGrady, who now lives in Dallas, admitted his choice was the Bierock.
“Everything she (Mueller) mentioned in describing the dish, the caraway seeds, everything was there … the Chicken Waffles, a lot of thought went into the dish, the Bombay Pillows were excellent – I’d love to see Indian food at the Ren Fest, that would be marvelous,” he said.
McGrady’s cookbook (out Nov. 1) called “Eating Royally; Recipes and Remembrances from a Palace Kitchen” is not only about the last 20 years he’s been in the states, but about “making it possible for every-day people to make palace-worthy dishes in their own kitchen.”
When asked about food portions, which are noticeably smaller in Great Britain than food portions served in the United States, does that include the royal family?
McGrady laughed and said the royals eat small portions as well.
“It wasn’t something I noticed at first. Not until I came here, and then went back to England to visit family, I noticed my family would count french fries on their plates. But now I live in Texas where everything is super-sized,” he said.