Robb Report’s New Culinary Master for 2015

  •   Nick Badovinus prepares his second course
    Photo by Cordero Studios Nick Badovinus prepares his second course
  •  Pan-fried quail-leg salad with  bacon, tomato, buttermilk ranch dressing, and “angry pecans.”
    Photo by Cordero Studios Pan-fried quail-leg salad with bacon, tomato, buttermilk ranch dressing, and “angry pecans.”
  • Badovinus and his mentor, Dean Fearing, share a love of bold flavors and Texas ingredients
    Photo by Cordero Studios Badovinus and his mentor, Dean Fearing, share a love of bold flavors and Texas ingredients
  • Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage
    Photo by Cordero Studios Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage
  • One of the rapturous competition judges, Robert Barrett, was moved to illustrate his scoring booklet.
    Photo by Cordero Studios One of the rapturous competition judges, Robert Barrett, was moved to illustrate his scoring booklet.
  • Photo by Cordero Studios
  • Tortilla Soup Tribute: chicken, avocado, cheddar
    Photo by Cordero Studios Tortilla Soup Tribute: chicken, avocado, cheddar
  • Pan-fried  Quail-Leg salad: bacon, tomato, buttermilk ranch dressing
    Photo by Cordero Studios Pan-fried Quail-Leg salad: bacon, tomato, buttermilk ranch dressing
  • Scallops and Chile-Cheddar Grits: barbecue spice, Spanish chorizo, dressed chicory hearts
    Photo by Cordero Studios Scallops and Chile-Cheddar Grits: barbecue spice, Spanish chorizo, dressed chicory hearts
  • The Steak: Rosewood wagyu tenderloin, Yukon Gold hash, upland cress, original Voodoo Sauce
    Photo by Cordero Studios The Steak: Rosewood wagyu tenderloin, Yukon Gold hash, upland cress, original Voodoo Sauce
  • Balcones Butterscotch Pot de Créme with sugar wafers
    Photo by Cordero Studios Balcones Butterscotch Pot de Créme with sugar wafers
  •   Nick Badovinus prepares his second course
  •  Pan-fried quail-leg salad with  bacon, tomato, buttermilk ranch dressing, and “angry pecans.”
  • Badovinus and his mentor, Dean Fearing, share a love of bold flavors and Texas ingredients
  • Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage
  • One of the rapturous competition judges, Robert Barrett, was moved to illustrate his scoring booklet.
  • Tortilla Soup Tribute: chicken, avocado, cheddar
  • Pan-fried  Quail-Leg salad: bacon, tomato, buttermilk ranch dressing
  • Scallops and Chile-Cheddar Grits: barbecue spice, Spanish chorizo, dressed chicory hearts
  • The Steak: Rosewood wagyu tenderloin, Yukon Gold hash, upland cress, original Voodoo Sauce
  • Balcones Butterscotch Pot de Créme with sugar wafers
<< Back to Robb Report, January 2015

With a "good little menu" chef Nick Badovinus puts his brand on modern Texas cuisine. To view each chef’s full competition menu and recipes—as well as additional photos and videos—go to robbreport.com/culinarymasters.

“We’ll never be the edge of the wedge,” chef Nick Badovinus says as gallons of grits bubble on the hotel kitchen’s range. “That’s not who we are. And we’re not going to win. But we are going to have fun tonight.”

Badovinus, the charismatic chef and owner of the four Neighborhood Services restaurants in Dallas, is in the thick of preparations for the third annual Robb Report Culinary Masters Competition. As the grits simmer, slivers of shaved ham and a bowl of pimiento cheese spread sit on the counter, waiting to be assembled into appetizers. Three of his cooks attend to other elements on the menu, including Voodoo Sauce, a concoction he learned from Emeril Lagasse that involves cooking down a gallon of Crystal hot sauce and a gallon of Worcestershire sauce into a potent, eye-watering base. “It might be used as Louisiana embalming fluid, too,” Badovinus jokes. 

The mood in the kitchen is so loose, the menu so familiar and nostalgic, it seems impossible that this is Badovinus’s first culinary competition and that in a couple of hours, he will be serving a five-course meal to 55 judges at the Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage, in Southern California. Badovinus is one of five rising stars vying for the title of New Culinary Master for 2015. Every year, Robb Report assembles a panel of renowned master chefs and challenges each to name the culinary world’s most promising newcomer. This year’s panel—David Bouley, Dean Fearing, Pierre Gagnaire, Nancy Oakes, and Wolfgang Puck—singled out chefs from San Francisco to Los Angeles, Tokyo to the South of France. One of these chefs has already earned a Michelin star and almost all of them work in a culinary idiom that involves liquid nitrogen, tweezers, foraging, or all of the above. 

Almost all of them. Badovinus—as he explains, while “feeding” the grits with butter and agitating them to build a velvety richness—is more concerned with what he calls “everyday food” and stirring emotions at the table. “You cook for your audience,” he says. “So we gravitate to the naturally big and robust flavors.” 

Badovinus’s competition menu aims for the bull’s-eye of pleasure, with such dishes as pan-fried quail legs paired with a tangy buttermilk-ranch salad, and a steak so intensely beefy it is an ode to Texas itself. Badovinus and his team arrived three days earlier, lugging containers filled with ingredients from his home state—“specialty stuff that’s more reflective of what we do in Dallas today,” he says. His Texas pantry includes fresh stone-ground grits from Homestead Gristmill in Waco and a creamy 4-year-old cheddar from Veldhuizen Texas Farmstead Cheese in Dublin. But the ingredient that confers the most bragging rights is the 28-day dry-aged Rosewood wagyu beef, from a ranch near Dallas. Badovinus will serve the beef in his fourth course: towering 3-inch-thick tenderloins with Voodoo Sauce in a rowdy spin on steak Diane. “Rosewood beef has a really, really delicate texture, and super, super flavor,” he says. “Wagyu is usually a little ribald—overly fatty, just not quite beef—but this is phenomenal.” 

Across the prep table, one of his chefs is working on the dessert, using a pastry brush to gently whisk away the crumbs from a batch of pink sugar-wafer cookies—apparently a high-flown remake of a childhood favorite. But Badovinus is surprised by the notion. “No!” he says. “At $2.16 a pack, who can make them any better?” Indeed, the cookies came from a grocery-store aisle: a huge gamble in a serious culinary competition, but one calculated to add a fun twist to his elegant butterscotch pot de crème. Plus, the wafers do remind Badovinus of his childhood.

“Food is like that. It has a romanticism to it that is not all about being on the edge of the wedge,” he says. “Romanticism, and a connection to people—that’s the secret sauce for us. I believe that tapping into the past is equally as powerful as looking toward the future.” 

(Continues on next page...)

From Around the Web...
Four new restaurants add to the dining luster of Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood. Destination...
One-of-a-kind culinary adventures, equipment, and collections sure to make their mouths water…
From a Texas turkey to brioche stuffing, here are 10 creative takes on Thanksgiving favorites…
10 great chefs, 40 incredible courses, and zero dishes to wash if you dine out this year…
15 sweet and savory classic and surprising wine-and-food pairings…
What’s Thanksgiving without pie? These creative versions and timeless classics are sure to wow…
Published between 1900 and 2016, the works are monuments to more than a century of culinary triumph…
Chicago’s Alinea closed on New Year’s Eve and reopened this year with some outrageous surprises….
The five-star property is offering classes in cooking, mixology, cookie decorating, and more…
Photo by Gabriele Stabile
The casual-culinary revolution has a rich tradition in critical condition…