Chef Hunter battles it out in final round

Posted Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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What first started as smoke from a fog machine during introductions quickly turned to steam from the pans used by the four finalists of Fort Worth, Texas magazine’s fourth annual Top Chef competition.

Owner of Weatherford’s Fire Oak Grill, Eric Hunter, took part in the competition and again made it to the finals.

But after a tight competition, fellow chef Anthony Felli of Fort Worth’s Del Frisco’s took home the title of Top Chef.

"The talent is the best we’ve had yet coming into the finals," said chef Tim Love, owner of several restaurants in the area.

The 2012 winner of the Top Chef competition, Blaine Staniford, served as one of the judges this year.

"I’m very glad I’m not cooking this year," Staniford said of the tough competition, which resulted with all four finalists finishing within six points of each other.

The competition at the Cendera Center in Fort Worth on August 15, began with a blind taste test which gave the chefs just two minutes to taste a sauce and write down the ingredients with points given for correct guesses and taken away for incorrect ones.

Hunter easily won that part of the competition and placed second in a skills test that included making gouda morney sauce. Both tests combined for 40 percent of the competition.

But the largest portion of the score would come from the dishes created in a 20 minute segment using the secret ingredient – rabbit.

Hunter’s wife Jennifer said she was pleased when she heard the ingredient since she knew Hunter had cooked with rabbit numerous times.

"I was actually thrown off a little bit," Hunter said of the rabbit.

He said the first year of the competition they used rabbit and he had been expecting something different.

As soon as they were told the ingredient, the four chefs began to move quickly as they started to collect other ingredients and work on the dish.

"It’s kinda limited what we have to work with," Hunter said. But each chef still managed to create a delicious dish – each one unique.

After the 20 minutes were up, the chefs left and the judges came in and tried each of the four dishes.

After trying Hunter’s dish – which included the rabbit with other greens and pickled mushrooms and sauce – the judges praised his work. Love even said he thought his dish was the most culinary advanced one of the four.

But Love also said he thought the rabbit had been slightly undercooked. Judy Byrd, another judge and food writer for the magazine, said she liked how the rabbit was cooked and the garlic used with it.

But the mixed reviews kept him from earning the title that would get the winner on the cover of the magazine’s next edition and an interview on CBS 11 the next morning.

But Hunter said he enjoyed the competition even though he did not win.

"It’s about the fun and us getting to do this," Hunter said.

Hunter had his own cheering section of friends and family from Weatherford who came to support him.

Wendy Osgood’s daughter works at Fire Oak Grill and said she and her husband and friends were glad to come out and offer their support.

Each time the chefs were announced or Hunter did well, he received the loudest cheers as the tables of Weatherford residents showed their support.

"Weatherford is that kind of place," Hunter said. "The people of Weatherford support Weatherford."

Despite not winning first, Hunter said the experience was great and he looks forward to continue participating in future years – until he finally brings home the title of Top Chef.

Other competitors included Kyle Jones of Truluck’s in Southlake and Todd Phillips of J.R.’s Steakhouse in Colleyville.

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