Davida Johnson-Pugh really wanted to win. At Thursday night's Big Chef/Little Chef event, the 16-year-old Garrett High School student enthusiastically described the flavors and ingredients as she handed out small bowls of white shrimp and succotash salad with ricotta salata and serrano chile vinaigrette, the dish she created with Chef Mike Lata of FIG.
Before the votes were tallied, she worked the room, making sure everyone had gotten a taste of their dish. Davida and Lata were taking on a big challenge, competing against a number of Charleston's best chefs who were teamed up with participants from Louie's Kids, a program that helps at-risk youth combat obesity by teaching them about exercise and nutrition.
Over the course of the previous week, big chefs had gotten together with their little chef counterparts to prepare the dishes and provide the students a hands-on lesson in diet and nutrition.
At Lowndes Grove on a balmy Thursday night, the chefs manned their tables and encouraged their helpers to plate the dishes and explain them to the diners, who would be voting on their favorites at the end of the night.
Chef Sean Brock and Elizabeth Retherford placed perfectly cooked chunks of beef tenderloin on a flavorful cream corn sauce topped with a crunchy corn salad. Chef Marc Collins and Quenterrah Simmons grilled up tasty antelope sliders, while Charleston Grill's Michelle Weaver and Auja Ravenel wooed voters with beautiful bowls of bright yellow gazpacho.
Celebrity chef and cookbook author Marvin Woods came in from Atlanta to host and judge the event with his wife Petra and daughter Madison Paige, and so did Heba Salama and Ed Brantley from the weight-loss show, The Biggest Loser.
In the end, a very grateful and tearful Louis Yuhasz thanked the chefs for providing a priceless experience to their little chefs before Davida and Mike were awarded the win for their dish, which was not only delicious but light and healthy too.
Second place was awarded to Nico Romo and JaeAngelo Seabrook for their moo shu wraps, and third place went to Michelle Weaver and Auja Ravenel for their gazpacho.