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Christa Glennie Seychew: Organizer, Nickel City Chef

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Christa Glennie Seychew: Organizer, Nickel City Chef

Christa Glennie Seychew is the owner and creator of the event production company Feed Your Soul, which beginning on Feb. 20 will be launching their third season of Nickel City Chef. The local cooking competition pits culinary creators at some of Western New York’s finest dining establishments against each other in an Iron Chef-esque battle of skills with surprise ingredients, a live audience and a guest panel of judges. Tickets for all four events have already sold out but the event can still be followed online at Visit Feed Your Soul at

What are the organizers of Nickel City Chef doing to keep the competition fresh this year?

This year we’ve recruited a variety of judges from out of town, including some food celebs like Kevin Brauch (Iron Chef America, The Thirsty Traveler) and Regina Schrambling (NY Times, and chefs from Cleveland, Philadelphia and Toronto. New halfway through last season is our live, roving camera, which beams lush footage straight from the kitchens onto our twelve overhead monitors providing the audience with an improved view.

When it comes to your evaluation of a chef, which is the more admirable quality: technical prowess or risk-taking creativity?

I love a chef who takes risks and am sick to death of menus sporting the same old stuff, but if a chef’s technical skills aren’t up to snuff and there isn’t a good grasp of the basics, creativity has no footing.

In your opinion, what are some of the most underrated aspects of the Buffalo culinary scene?

I think the majority of our population doesn’t utilize fine dining restaurants to their advantage. They only go on special occasions and feel pressure to engage in a multi-course meal and a nice bottle of wine. But most fine dining establishments have great bar menus and are more than happy to have folks come in and order a couple of appetizers on a week night. The food is pretty outstanding at most of our fine dining establishments and in that situation, certainly no more expensive than eating some mass produced chicken entree at a run of the mill chain.

How has the Buffalo food scene changed since the inception of Nickel City Chef?

Honestly, we had three goals with NCC. 1. To encourage use of locally raised produce and protein in our restaurants. 2. To give credit where credit is due to our local culinary talent. 3. To encourage people to take more risks when out dining, ultimately allowing chefs to serve (and actually sell) something besides pasta and crab cakes. I think, at least in the city, we’ve contributed to all three of those things occurring, though the momentum for the drastic change we’ve seen in our food scene over the last five years was already noticeable before we began planning this project in early 2008.

Why was it important for organizers to put an emphasis on local foods and providers?

Local food is at the heart of everything Feed Your Soul does. We have thousands of small, family owned farms in WNY, along with great soil and an abundance of micro-climates. In the city, we are often out of touch with the fact that agriculture is a huge economic driver for our region. Five years ago I struggled to find any local food in our restaurants, even at the height of growing season, yet I knew chefs who were paying top dollar to ship fresh ingredients in. This disconnect is prevalent all of the country. All of my events are focused on reconnecting the local food chain by increasing demand and appreciation for local, sustainably-raised ingredients amongst our citizens.

What effect does the audience have on the participating chef’s? Why is performing under pressure an important part of the competition?

At each competition, every audience member is able to cast a vote for their favorite chef. Their determination is only a small factor in the overall scoring of the event, but they should still take their job seriously because we have had some very close calls! But the audience really gets into it, people bring signs and sport t-shirts supporting their favorite chef.

Pressure smessure! These chefs work just as hard in their own kitchens all the time. That said, the pressure to do well, to prepare smart, inventive, deftly executed cuisine with your peers and customers watching, isn’t an easy task. But you know what they say, “If you can’t take the heat...”

Bonus: How sharp are your skills in the kitchen? What are your favorite or trademark dishes?

I love to cook and consider myself a knowledgeable homecook, but I’m afraid my family would complain that it’s sometimes a case of the shoemaker’s children. We eat out about twice a week. I only bring in the big guns for company. The rest of the time it’s simple stove top pasta dishes with fresh vegetables, braised items like short ribs, and in this weather, comfort classics like pasta bolognese and mac and cheese.

Bonus: Could you give us a brief handicap of the field this year? Who’s the early favorite to win?

That’s the hardest part for me personally, because I hate to see someone lose. I really try very hard to make sure we don’t put anyone up there that can’t really bring it to the table.

I think all the matches are evenly matched this year, with each participant really having their own personal style and individual strengths. First up we have a really cool twist with two really capable and smart women competing, a first for us (Nickel City Chef Krista Van Wagner vs. Chef Jen Boye).

The second show features our newest Nickel City Chef, Brian Mietus of Bacchus, against Chef Mary Ann Giordano of Creekview. These two chefs have competed with one another before. I didn’t know that when we set the date, but that makes it a bit of a re-match.

The last two shows I am also really excited about. JJ Richert of Torches is the only undefeated Nickel City Chef and he’s got a real ability to make things that are approachable and please the palate, plus he’s very ballsy, so we never know what crazy thing he’s going to do. He’s going up against a chef who I consider to be absolutely incredibly talented and, because he is a chef for a private club, most people have no idea what a total bad ass he is (James Roberts of Park Country Club).

The last show features Nickel City Chef Adam Goetz of Sample, whose competition food never fails to blow me away, it’s so freaking smart and technically impeccable. He’s going up against Louis Zanghi of The Delaware, who has classic French training and a degree from CIA, but is all about blue collar comfort food and peasant-style dishes, so the opposite nature of their styles should be very interesting.

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