Denny's Dontre'al Haigler Prepares for California Giant Berry Farms' Fifth Chef Invitational
WATSONVILLE, CA - The days creep closer to the fifth iteration of California Giant Berry Farms’ Chef Invitational, and I for one cannot wait to see the event kick off. As we prepare for the competition, I spoke with the finalists looking to take home the title of Top Chef.
Dontre’al Haigler, Product Development/Innovation Chef at Denny’s, spoke with me about everything from the inspiration of his dish to the strategies he hopes to employ during the competition.
“My dish is a play on a deconstructed sushi roll with the Thai blueberry sticky rice, seaweed corals, and the sweet and sour strawberry pearls. Also, I wanted to give the dish some Hispanic flare, so I added the chorizo seasoning on the fried octopus,” he explained to me. “During my time traveling through the Monterey, California, area, I’ve had some of the best seafood and fruits I’ve ever tasted. I wanted to show the farmers and fishermen in the area some respect on my plate with the West Coast octopus and placing the lovely berries front and center.”
From competing alone, Dontre’al has learned how versatile the berry category is, and he continues to advocate for their place on the plate.
“You can do so much with them,” he remarked. “Just by adding fresh berries to a dish, you can add so much brightness and sweetness to your creation. I think every chef should add berries across their menu not just only on the desert menu but also on their day and evening menu to show their versatility."
As Dontre’al looks down the road at the competition itself, I ask him how he wants to approach the Chef Invitational.
“I think this year I’m coming in to have fun and not over-stress the dish. I want to showcase my talents while also showcasing the berries. Last year, I over-complicated the dish by over-portioning and seasoning, and some things were out of balance. But this year, I’m coming back to make things right,” he noted.
Throughout his career, Dontre’al has been exploring the ins and outs of the foodservice industry and taking everything he learns in stride.
“I started working for Denny’s after one year of graduating from culinary school. I started as an assistant to the chefs in the kitchen and after working on several projects with them I was promoted to a Development Chef. After my promotion I continued to work on some of our most popular seasonal LTO items, such as Double Chocolate Pancake Puppies and Short Berry Dream Cakes. Recently, I was promoted to Product Development Innovation Chef,” he said.
I wish the best of luck to Dontre’al as he walks into the Chef Invitational!
Stick around with AndNowUKnow as we continue to cover the lead up to the event.