With his beef-and-prawn dish, Zachary Miller aced the cook-off at a U.S.-Canadian competition in Fort Lauderdale last month. The junior chef, representing The Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center, earned the top award and a chance to compete internationally in April.

He had earlier won the U.S. title in Chicago.

Judges awarded Miller the Junior Chef Copper Skillet for his entrée, which featured two types of mushrooms – lobster and trumpet – as well as white asparagus, purple sweet potato, and heavy cream. The competition was sponsored by IACC-Americas, the International Association of Conference Centres.

Miller, a Virginia Tech employee since 2012, studied culinary arts at Monroe Technology School in Leesburg, Virginia, and Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. A Virginia native, he began cooking at age 16 at the Lansdowne Resort in Northern Virginia.

Miller is scheduled to compete in the global competition in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in April.

To prepare his winning dish, Miller had only 30 minutes to whip up an entrée with side dishes after being presented with basic pantry items along with the beef and prawn.

The dish requires an assortment of vegetables: two purple sweet potatoes, four stalks of Swiss chard cut off at the stem, four stalks of peeled white asparagus, three peeled young carrots, a trumpet mushroom, and three lobster mushrooms with the stems cut off. The prawn should be deveined with the tail left on, and the beef tenderloin should be a four-ounce fillet.

The instructions, according to Miller:

  • Peel the purple sweet potatoes and cut into eighths; cover in water, then boil. Once fork tender, drain and put into a bowl and add a quarter pound of butter and a quarter cup of heavy cream. Beat with a whisk until mashed; add salt and pepper to taste. Hold hot.
  • Dice the carrots and asparagus to a medium size and rough chop the Swiss chard. Mince shallot (two bulbs), garlic (five cloves), and a bunch of thyme. Preheat sauté pan until it begins to smoke and add the carrots, asparagus, shallots and garlic. Sauté to tenderness, then deglaze with half a cup of white wine; add Swiss chard and butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Preheat cast-iron skillet till smoking. Season fillet with salt and pepper. When hot, sear about four to five minutes on each side to desired internal temperature. Remove from pan and set aside to rest. In hot pan add garlic, shallots, and sliced trumpet and lobster mushrooms; season with salt and pepper. After they change color, deglaze with half a cup of red wine and add half a cup of demi-glace. Simmer two to three minutes. Hold hot in a container, then clean the skillet.
  • Preheat the skillet. Season the prawn with salt and pepper. Add oil to pan; when it smokes, place prawn in pan and sear. Add two tablespoons of butter and let brown, spooning butter over the shrimp as it cooks. After two to three minutes on each side, the shrimp will be done. Assemble on the plate.
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