BY LORI SMITH
Photo: Chuck Fazio for MGM Resorts International
Melissa Moskal, CMP, CMM with PR1ME Strategies in Vancouver, is the winner of MGM Resorts International’s inaugural Meeting Planner Recipe Showdown.
Competing against 11 other North American planners, Moskal won over the judges’ taste buds with her luscious lamb moussaka during a Top Chef-style cook-off in Las Vegas, held on the opening day of IMEX America 2014.
“It was like being on Chopped,” Moskal said. “I was shaking so hard, I could hardly present the dish to the judges.”
She needn’t have worried. Her lamb moussaka was the unanimous choice of the judges: Julian Serrano, executive chef, Picasso at Bellagio Las Vegas; Royden Ellamar, executive chef at Sensi at Bellagio Las Vegas and a winner of Chopped; and Sean DiCicco, vice-president of food and beverage, Mandalay Bay.
Moskal explained that the invitation to enter the contest asked planners to submit a recipe that inspired them. She wrote in her entry that as a planner, working long hours and having a lengthy commute home, she struggles to eat home-cooked meals during the week. Her solution is to prepare two or three casseroles on Sunday, which she can quickly warm-up when she arrives home in the evening. The lamb moussaka, which she evolved from a recipe she received from a friend 20 years ago, is a favourite.
Both the recipe and its inspiration resonated with MGM’s selection committee. On September 9th, Moskal squared off against Terry Thorsteinson from Cascadia Motivation and Anna Rowinska from MCI Group in the Vancouver city showdown. Rowinska tempted the judges with an appetizer, her mom’s world-famous hot spinach dip. Thorsteinson served up sockeye salmon in teriyaki ginger marinade with tarragon and capers. “Anywhere else I would have won,” he says. “But I was beaten by the world’s best moussaka.”
The win in Vancouver gave Moskal a spot in the 12-person finals, which were held in Las Vegas on October 13 in the commercial kitchens below MGM Resorts’ Arena. There the [planner chefs had two-and-a-half hours to prepare and plate their recipes.
As the winner, Moskal receives a glass trophy from Tiffany’s and an all-expenses paid trip for two to the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in Miami this coming February.
She says she and her husband have already booked their tickets for Miami. “We’re both foodies,” she says, “and we have tickets to a lot of the events at the Festival. It’s all a thrill.”
The competition launched in Toronto during IncentiveWorks 2014, and then travelled to 11 more cities across the country. In each city, planners first had to submit a recipe with an explanation of what inspired it. From those submissions, MGM chose three finalists in each city, who faced off for the right to represent their hometown in the ultimate cook-off in Las Vegas.
The other Canadian competing was Sharon Bajwa, who took top honors at the Toronto competition. Competing against planners Lynda Gidge (Hearty Beef and Barley Soup) and Nanett Moylan (Fresh Salmon Loaf), Bajwa served up a mouthwatering lamb curry on quinoa that was topped with guacamole (mint replaced the cilantro to accent the lamb).
The 10 city champions from the U.S. were:
- Marni Abramowitz – New York, NY
- Janel Anderson – Minneapolis, MN
- Timothy Arnold – Dallas, TX
- Toby Brenner – Los Angeles, CA
- Shay Buckingham – Denver, CO
- Lynn Kennedy – San Francisco, CA
- Susan Lane – Boston, MA
- Rushion McDonald – Atlanta, GA
- Meg Pawelski – Chicago, IL
- Elaina Veveakis – Washington, DC