Preparing award-winning food seems to be a proverbial cakewalk for 42-year-old Dave Elliott of Olathe.
By MARY G. PEPITONE
Special to The Star
After four days of heated competition at the second annual World Food Championships in Las Vegas, Elliott tasted sweet victory Sunday night by preparing his mother Jan Elliott’s carrot cake recipe and being judged the competition’s overall winner.
A $50,000 grand prize and the World Food Champion title were the icing on Elliott’s competitive cake.
“There were 300 competitors who had already won cooking contests just to be able to compete in Las Vegas. Never, in a million years, did I think I would make it through the first round, let alone be the last man standing,” Elliott said. “I had to change flight arrangements back to Kansas two times because I was surprised to keep winning. It’s still unreal and surreal to me.”
The World Food Championships is a tournament-style event in which everyday cooks could compete against seasoned chefs in seven iconic food categories: barbecue, chili, burger, sandwich, bacon, original recipe and, of course, dessert. Winners from about 500 approved epicurean events from around the nation advanced to the competition in Las Vegas. Over Labor Day, Elliott’s team — Porky McBeef and the Cluckers — won the best dessert award at a sanctioned barbecue competition in Omaha, Neb., which qualified him to compete in Las Vegas.
After being in the top tier of the dessert category in Las Vegas, Elliott and his “sous chef” mother stepped up to the cake plate to compete against winners in the other six categories. Mike McCloud, founder and president of the World Food Championships, had a piece of the winning, moist, two-layer carrot cake, which was made with crushed pineapple, iced with cream cheese frosting and topped with chopped, roasted pecans.
“The simplicity of the cake and the homegrown memories it invoked after biting into it was what won the judges over. It’s a beautiful thing that the cake wasn’t all fancy-schmancy and over the top,” McCloud said. “The Elliotts’ carrot cake had the roots of home in the way it was executed and in its balance of flavors. It just goes to prove that sometimes simple is better.”
But Elliott’s victory was bittersweet. His father, Dennis, passed away on Nov. 7, the first day of the competition. Even though his mother and father had divorced years ago, Dave says he wouldn’t have won the competition without both of his parents.
“My mom was by my side every step of the way during the competition,” he said. “But I think I also got a lot of help from my dad in that he was looking out for me.”
Back in his Olathe kitchen, the food judges Elliott tries to please most are his wife, Renee, and their 15-month-old son, Landon. A product marketer by day, Elliott is out grilling or smoking ribs, pork chops, beef brisket, and turkey breasts on nights and weekends. He’s either preparing the protein for dinner, or participating in the dozen regional barbecue competitions he enters throughout the year.
Elliott enjoys chasing savory barbecue with sweet treats. His frozen peanut butter pie is also a crowd pleaser and an award-winning dessert. “I’m just a regular guy who loves barbecue,” he said. “I’ve taken some barbecue grilling classes, but I’m not a trained chef. I just practice, have a lot of help, and a lot of luck, too.”
Already, Elliott is planning to attend the World Food Championships next year as the reigning champion. Right now, he’s putting his money where his mouth is by investing his winnings in a college fund for his son, sharing a portion with his mother and considering the options of taking his food to the street with a food truck and/or catering businesses. The award-winning carrot cake could be good for business, so he’s keeping the recipe secret.
He will continue to grill through the winter, but looks forward to spring. That’s when The World Food Championships Las Vegas is scheduled to appear as a six-part reality television series on an A&E cable channel. Elliott says he will likely host a watch party for family and close friends. “We will probably serve the winning dish,” he said. “Let them eat cake.”