2 weeks ago

Two Alabama cooks competing in World Food Championships finals

The chef and general manager of SAW’s Soul Kitchen in Birmingham and a competitive barbecue cook from Muscle Shoals are two of the 10 finalists competing in the Final Table of the World Food Championships.

Matthew Statham of SAW’s Soul Kitchen and backyard cook Morgan Cheek earned a spot in the WFC finals with wins in their divisions and $10,0000 each at the World Food Championships in Dallas last October.

The Final Table: Indy competition was originally scheduled to take place in May in Indianapolis, but COVID-19 delayed it until Aug. 8-9 with the $100,000 top prize is up for grabs.

Statham’s work at SAW’s Soul Kitchen was already turning heads in the culinary world when he tied for the top spot at the Made South Slider Showdown a couple of years ago. That win came with a Gold Ticket into the WFCs that were then being held in Orange Beach.

Two Alabama cooks compete in World Food Championships from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

But when Statham was ready to cash in his ticket last year, the WFCs moved to Dallas and almost prevented him from competing.

When it was just a drive from Birmingham to Orange Beach, Statham said he could justify going without an expectation to win.

“Even if it crashes and burns, we’ve got a couple of days at the beach, which is never a bad thing,” he rationalized.

A trip to Dallas meant spending money on airline tickets, hotel stays and the like and raised the stakes.

“My wife wouldn’t let me off that easy,” Statham said.

So they did fundraisers like selling pork butts and a raffle where friends, family and fans helped fund the trip to Dallas.

“I was really overwhelmed by the response,” Statham said.

Once in Dallas, Statham was in the Chef category up against 40 of the best chefs in the world. After two dishes in the preliminaries, Statham was sitting in the top spot with 10 finalists cooking for the win.

“We cooked one more dish and we held on by what I believe was the closest margin they’ve ever had in the category but I think it’s just a testament to how strong the category was,” Statham said.

The dish he prepared for the win? Brunch Tart with Parmesan Herb Tuile, which gave Statham a final overall score of 93.02 out of a possible 100, giving him $10,000 and a trip to Final Table: Indy.

Cheek’s path to the final table was different.

He has spent the past few years with his Sweet Cheeks Pit BBQ team competing in backyard barbecue competitions. When he learned about the AFC and the ancillary competitions that could earn him a spot in, he signed up to compete in the burger ancillaries last year. After winning them all, Cheek had his Golden Ticket to Dallas competing in the Burger division at the WFC.

“Our first year competing at WFC was very intimidating being surrounded by so many accomplished chefs and past World Food Champions,” he said. “Kitchen Arena was like nothing we had ever experienced, and it definitely was an adrenaline rush.”

The Burger category’s opening round was presented by Bo Jackson’s Signature Foods. Competitors were tasked with creating a cowboy burger and a second burger of their choice.

For the second burger, Cheek went old-school with a double patty smash burger with caramelized onions, melted American cheese and BSB- Brown Sugar Bourbon bacon on a toasted brioche bun.

“It’s just an old-school smash burger. Just a good ol’ burger with cheese and sautéed onions, maybe a little special bacon jam,” Cheek said. “I knew it was good, but after looking at all of the other turn-ins … there were some incredible turn-ins, I mean they were beautiful burgers. I didn’t know. I was like, ‘Well, we had fun. It was a great experience. We’ll see what happens.’”

What happened was that “good ol’ burger” earned a perfect score of 100 from the judges and propelled Cheek to a huge lead in the finals, where he did a slight modification of the same burger to create “The Hometown Smashburger” for the $10,000 win and a trip to Final Table: Indy.

“That afternoon on the stage, I can’t explain it,” Cheek said. “It was awesome!”

At Final Table: Indy, Statham and Cheek will go up against the winners in the other eight categories from the WFC in Dallas. The first of three rounds for the Final Table will be a Pork and Parisian Gnocchi dish that will cut the field in half. Those final five will have to recreate a complex Duck dish curated by Chef Greg Hardesty of Studio C. The top three from that round will then have to recreate the Indiana-famous Sugar Cream Pie in the final round.

For Cheek, that as a far cry from barbecue and burgers.

“It’s a completely different world for me,” he said. “I’m so barbecue focused, I don’t know how to cook culinary, if that makes any sense. They started spitting off lingo with pots and pans and different things that I don’t even know what they’re talking about – I’ve got to Google all of this stuff. They talk about cutting stuff in different kinds of things. I don’t know what they’re talking about.”

He’s been practicing cooking duck. Maybe a bit too much practice.

“Oh my gosh, I’m ducked out! My family’s ducked out. My friends are ducked out,” Cheek said. “I don’t want to taste another duck right now.”

Cheek’s strategy going into the Final Table?

“Cook the best product I can without a smoker,” he grinned.

For Statham, he hopes to return to SAW’s Soul Kitchen with a win. One of four locations of the SAW’s collection of barbecue restaurants, the Avondale restaurant has undergone a renovation and Statham said those who have been away due to COVID-19 might not recognize it – though the food is still great.

It was SAW’s Soul Kitchen that brought Sweet Tea Fried Chicken and Pork and Greens to the menu and stood out in a city filled with culinary standouts.

Having two Alabama chefs in the final 10 at the WFC Final Table will add to the reputation coming off Birmingham’s Highlands Bar and Grill being named “Outstanding Restaurant in America” and its pastry chef, Dolester Miles, named “Outstanding Pastry Chef” by the James Beard Foundation two years ago.

“I think the country is maybe taking a little bit of notice to us,” Statham said. “Obviously with (Highlands Executive Chef Frank) Stitt winning James Beard for best restaurant and Dol being the best pastry chef in the country, people are starting to think, ‘Hey, maybe they can cook down there.’ I think this is just kind of another feather in the cap, I guess. Hey, we know what we’re doing down here and we’re trying to show the world that we do. Hopefully we can make some noise up there and make everybody look good.”

Final Table: Indy will take place in Indianapolis at Ivy Tech Community College. It is hosted by Visit Indy and sponsored by Ivy Tech Culinary Center, Maple Leaf Farms, Sysco, Red Gold, The Pork Board, and Culinary Crossroads. The 10 competitors are:

You can follow the competition from the World Food Championships on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 hours ago

Chuck Martin endorses Republican Russell Bedsole in Alabama House District 49

Russell Bedsole’s Republican candidacy has received a boost in the Alabama House District 49 special election.

This seat, covering parts of Bibb, Chilton and Shelby Counties, was vacated by the resignation of State Rep. April Weaver (R-Brierfield), who left the legislature to join the administration of President Donald J. Trump.

Bedsole led the pack in the GOP primary held last week, finishing ahead of second-place Mimi Penhale and third-place Chuck Martin. Since no candidate got a majority, a runoff will be held on September 1.

On Wednesday night, Martin endorsed Bedsole in that runoff via a Facebook post.

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Martin led Bibb County in primary votes and finished with a competitive 24.25% overall.

In a release, he expounded on why he is publicly backing Bedsole.

“After thoughtful consideration, I am endorsing Russell Bedsole to represent District 49 in the Alabama House of Representatives,” Martin stated. “Like me, Bedsole has deep roots in District 49. I believe he will be a strong voice for Bibb, Shelby, and Chilton counties, and he will fight for our communities’ conservative Christian values in Montgomery.”

Bedsole, a longtime deputy sheriff in Shelby County and an Alabaster city councilor, has already been endorsed by the likes of Shelby County Sheriff John Samaniego and the Alabama State Fraternal Order of the Police in the race.

“It is an honor to be endorsed by Chuck Martin,” Bedsole commented. “As a representative of District 49, I will fight for pro-life and pro-Second Amendment legislation, along with funding for developing crucial infrastructure, in the Alabama House of Representatives.”

Penhale, the legislative director for Shelby County’s legislative delegation, has taken an unpaid leave of absence from her state government job to run for office. She has been endorsed by the Alabama Farmers Federation.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

6 hours ago

License plate to support Alabama business proposed — Must meet 1,000 application benchmark

A license plate that will support Alabama small businesses will be created if 1,000 apply for one by July 31.

Funds from purchasing the plate will be given to Main Street Alabama, which will in turn provide workshops and grants to small businesses around the Yellowhammer State.

The tag can be applied for here. A $50 fee accompanies the application.

“With this program, individuals can show their dedication to their favorite small businesses, who in many cases are their friends and neighbors, with a tag that gives back to them with workshops and grants focused on strengthening their business,” said Main Street Alabama state coordinator Mary Helmer in a statement.

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Helmer added, “Small businesses keep it local by consistently sponsoring the local baseball team, providing gift baskets for the local charity drives and creating jobs in their community.”

Main Street Alabama is a non-profit entity and an offshoot of Main Street America organization.

The artwork on the tag was created by Chris Seagle, a graphic designer based in Birmingham.

The idea for a car tag supporting small business originated among a group of elected officials in Jefferson County.

Casey Middlebrooks, a member of the group and a Hoover City Councilman, said that his fellow officials “felt Main Street Alabama had the statewide presence and resources to facilitate support to small businesses throughout the state.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

7 hours ago

Ivey urges Alabamians to complete Census — Billions in funding, congressional seat at stake

Governor Kay Ivey (R-AL) on Friday released a video public service announcement urging Yellowhammer State residents to complete the 2020 Census.

The deadline to complete the Census recently was moved up to September 30, meaning there is less than seven weeks left for Alabamians to either self-respond or respond to Census Bureau field staff.

Leaders from the public sector, as well as industry, economic development, charitable and civic organizations, have warned for months that Alabama has a lot on the line during the 2020 Census response period.

Projections have shown the state will lose a congressional district and corresponding electoral college vote — likely to a far-left state such as New York, California or Illinois — if Alabama’s response rate continues to lag.

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“Complete your 2020 Census today,” Ivey said to begin the new PSA. “We only have until September 30.”

“Without you, Alabama stands to lose billions in funding, a seat in Congress and economic development opportunities,” she continued. “It only takes minutes to complete. Go to my2020census.gov or participate by phone or mail.”

The governor concluded, “Be counted — if not for you, for those in Alabama who depend on you for a brighter tomorrow.”

Watch:

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

7 hours ago

Report: Birmingham golf tournament Regions Tradition canceled for 2020

A report from WBRC in Birmingham on Friday says that the yearly golf tournament Regions Tradition has canceled the 2020 edition due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The event organizers say it will be back in early May of 2021.

WBRC says they were told by a “source close to the tournament” about the decision to cancel the 2020 version.

The tournament had previously been rescheduled from its normal late spring/early summer slot until September due to COVID-19 concerns.

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Regions Tradition is a tournament on the PGA Tour Champions circuit, a series of competitions held each year for golfers over age 50.

According to Alabama NewsCenter, the annual Regions Tradition tournament has an economic impact on the Birmingham area between $20 million and $25 million every year.

The Tradition was first held in 1989 and is one of the five major golf tournaments on the Senior Circuit.

Regions took over as the event’s sponsor in 2010 and relocated the tournament to the Birmingham area beginning in 2011.

Steve Stricker won the tournament in 2019, a title he will now keep for two years.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

8 hours ago

Jefferson County health officials say coronavirus pandemic precautions will continue into 2021

Two impactful figures in Jefferson County’s healthcare system advised on Friday that the coronavirus pandemic and resulting precautions such as mask-wearing will remain a major factor in public life at least through the end of 2020.

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson and CEO of the UAB Health System/Ascension St. Vincent’s Alliance Will Ferniany briefed reporters on coronavirus information during a Friday morning videoconference.

“This pandemic is not going away by the end of December,” warned Ferniany.

Wilson said it was “very likely” that he would push to keep a mask order in place across Jefferson County “through the flu season” which would indicate the ordinance would stay in place at least through the spring of 2021.

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“We have pretty good evidence that our face-covering orders, and our help from the public wearing face coverings, has made a difference,” remarked Wilson.

“We still have a ways to go but we’re starting to bend the curve downward,” Wilson told reporters.

The remarks made by Wilson and Ferniany are similar to what Mobile County epidemiologist Dr. Rendi Murphree told Yellowhammer News in recent days.

Ferniany said that UAB is making a significant investment in rapid testing that should be ready for action by the end of the year, the availability of which should make dealing with the virus more manageable.

Wilson highlighted a standard he felt more people should understand.

The county health officer said that any person exposed to someone positive for COVID-19 should quarantine for 14 days, even if they go out and get a test showing they do not have the virus.

“Fourteen days is the maximum amount of time from being exposed to the virus where you could still develop symptoms,” Wilson said to explain the policy.

Ferniany said UAB Hospital is currently treating around 90 patients, down from a peak of 130. He relayed that 40 of the COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized are in the ICU.

RELATED: Alabama coronavirus update: Hospitalizations begin to decrease, new cases falling

The executive also said that the toughest aspect of caring for COVID-19 cases currently is the shortage of nurses. He said the hospitals he oversees are down “several hundred nurses” with the partial explanation that traveling nursing companies are luring workers away with higher wages.

Wilson reported additional good news for Jefferson County. He said that the area is not experiencing a higher rate of black citizens dying from COVID-19 than white citizens.

“So far we’re not seeing a racial disparity in terms of deaths in Jefferson County,” he relayed.

“Forty-one percent of our deaths in Jefferson County with COVID-19 are African American. The African American population is 43%,” Wilson stated.

Yellowhammer News asked Wilson what kind of benchmarks he would need to be passed to trigger a loosening of coronavirus precautions and whether that would be dependent on a vaccine.

“We’re not going to be out of the woods for quite a long time,” Wilson responded.

“The bottom line will be the amount of disease activity we have in the community, and the trajectory of that,” he continued.

With respect to the vaccine, Wilson replied, “It is really hard to predict what is going to happen with the vaccine: How effective is it going to be, how widespread we’re going to be able to vaccinate people and how soon. There are way too many unknowns for us to say much about that.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95