20th Annual AIWF Caesar Salad Competition in Dallas Is A Blockbuster


Del Frisco's David Holben wins XX Caesar Salad Competition. (photo courtesy of Del Frisco's General Manager Gina Cook)

ery year the American Institute of Wine and Food (AIWF) holds their Caesar Salad competition to raises funds for their “Days of Taste”program. Days of Taste teaches schoolchildren about healthy eating, nutrition, and raise the awareness of obesity in children. This year was the 20th competition and it was rather special. AIWF volunteers assembled 12 of the past winners to compete in a taste-off voted on by the 500 attendees. The AIWF volunteers did a fantastic job organizing this event despite some key personnel being hit by illness (and even a bereavement) immediately prior to the date. They should be proud of what they accomplished that made it such an instructive, enjoyable and contributing event. And congratulations to this year’s winner:  Del Frisco’s Chef David Holben.

One of the most interesting things about the Annual Caesar Salad Competition is that it has never been won by a Caesar salad! At least not one assembled by Caesar Cardini back in his speakeasy days. Chefs have gilded the lily by adding a protein-related side dish as, shall we say, a lagniappe. This year was no exception so, without delay, the chefs who made this the biggest AIWF fundraiser of the year, their year of victory and what they prepared in addition to their salad for attendees at the Westin Galleria this year.

A few general points:

  • Almost all of the winning Caesar Salad recipes are currently on the menus of the winning restaurants.
  • Several chefs anticipated the change of seasons when they submitted the names of their lagniappe items to the organizers several months ago. As a result there were several autumnal soups in the mix.
  • There wasn’t a bad dish in the mix. These chefs really aimed high.
Doug Brown's cascade of salads in Parmesan cones resembled a shop display in a high-end clothing store

Doug Brown, 2002 (Beyond The Box, Dish): Parmesan Cone, Serrano Ham, Black Pepper Pop Rocks, Tomato Bisque on the side.

George Brown, 1996 (George Brown Catering): Pig pop (ancho chile dusted Nueske bacon on a stick).

Samir Dhurandhar, 2000 (Nick and Sam’s Steakhouse): Lobster burger with char sui beef, caviar, sprouts and tomato confit.

Gilbert Garza, 2001 (Suze): Tweaked the Caesar Cardini recipe with caramelized garlic as well as fresh garlic. Stuffed turkey meatball.

David Holben, 2004 (Del Friscos): Steve Haug (Del Friscos, Houston) execuchefed at their booth on the day. Lobster Saffron Broth finished with Smoked Bacon and Fresh Tarragon.

George Brown's Wild Pig Pops (ancho chile dusted Nueske bacon on a stick) ready to be plated

Brian Luscher, 2003 (The Grape); 2-Bite Caesar. A crouton topped with Caesar Salad including roasted kobe beef, creamy garlic parmesan Caesar salad topped with oven-dried grape tomato and parmesan reggiano.

James Neel, 1998 (Le Cordon Bleu Cooking School): Wild mushroom soup with truffles.

Janice Provost, 2007 (Parigi): Lobster BLT.

Kent Rathbun, 1994 (Abacus, Jasper’s, Rathbun’s Blue Plate Kitchen, Zea’s Woodfire Gril): Grilled olive oil marinated shrimp with a white truffle and white bean purée on top of a toasted bruschetta.

Janice Provost's Lobster Knuckle Sandwich. The bread was fried, making it crisp and sweet.

Jim Severson, 1997 (Sevy’s): Tomato dill soup with a goat cheese crisp. Plus…a chocolate kiss on every plate.

David C. Smith, 2010 (Westin Galleria): Onion Brulée with Shiner Bock Braised Short Ribs.

John Tesar, 2008 (The Commissary): Tempura fried avocados, Heinekin on tap.

And the winner was: David Holben. Second place: David C. Smith. The two Browns (Doug and James) were joint fourth (they are not related).

Samir Dhurandhar's Lobster burger with char sui beef, caviar, sprouts and tomato confit.
David Smith's dish. Check out the crème brulée on the right. It is made with Boursin cheese.
Brian Luscher's 2-Bite Caesar