Chef's Challenge Returns Oct. 1

The Manchester Chamber of Commerce's annual Chef's Challenge returns on Oct. 1.

The event will take place at Cheney Hall, 177 Hartford Road in Manchester, from 2 to 4 p.m. This is the fifth year of the event.

"It's a fun family event that's affordable and with all the restaurants there, there is bound to be something there that the kids will eat," said April DiFalco, president of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. "There is a variety of food and good portions. Come hungry."

Attendees can expect cuisine from 10 to 15 local restaurants, including A Villa Louisa, Corey's Catsup and Mustard, Highland Park Market, Kenny's Restaurant, Longhorn Steakhouse, MACC Community Catering, The Main Pub, Manchester Community College Culinary Department, and Trattoria Toscana.

Students from the Manchester High School culinary program will serve as sous chefs to each restaurant chef. DiFalco said that this will give them hands-on experience.

The Challenge has grown tremendously over the years.

"That first year, we had maybe 125 guests and now we've grown to have over 300 last year. We were a packed house at Cheney Hall last year," she said. "We get people that come from as far as Massachusetts and New York."

The event kept football fans in mind and kept the event to two hours. Guests can come at any time during the event.

DiFalco said the Chef's Challenge serves as an opportunity to showcase some of the great business in the area, while bringing the community together.

"Manchester is becoming known for their restaurants. Look at Main Street and there are plenty of them," she said.

This year, there is a new judging formula. Judges will be a part of the crowd and roam around the room tasting, as opposed to sitting on stage trying food in front of the audience. There will also be a mystery judge in the crowd that will be undercover, DiFalco said.

"That's where that element of guest experience comes in to play. They really have to treat everyone as well as they as if they were a judge," DiFalco said.

The People's Choice Award also returns this year. Guests will have the opportunity to vote for their favorite restaurant. DiFalco said the voting process will be new and exciting.

Restaurants will be judged on flavor, presentation, and guest experience.

Any of the chefs can win and may surprise guests with their dishes. Last year, the MCC Culinary program took the top prize at the Challenge. DiFalco said the program's elaborate duck dish still has people talking.

"They brought it last year. Their presentation was great, they even had decorative bamboo plates for serving," DiFalco said. "They really paid attention to what they were being judged on."

The afternoon will end with the top restaurants being awarded.

A portion of the proceeds from the Chef's Challenge will go to the "Bringing Mason Home" Project. The project benefits a local child who suffered life-threatening injuries as a result of shaken baby syndrome. Funds for Mason will be administered by MACC Charities.

Adult tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door. For seniors over 65 and students with valid college or high school IDs, tickets are $10, or $15 at the door. For children under age 12, tickets are $5 with the purchase of an adult ticket.

Tickets are available at the Manchester Chamber, 20 Hartford Road, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., or at Highland Park Market. Tickets are also available at www.EventBrite.com. When on the website, search "Manchester's Annual Chef's Challenge" in the search bar and type "Manchester, CT" in the location box.

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