Okla. Cherokee Nation citizen and chef Don McClellan stepped
out of his comfort zone July 24 to compete in an Iron Chef-style
competition as part of the 2011 "Living Earth Festival" at the Smithsonian's
National Museum of the American Indian.
annual Washington, D.C, festival celebrates Native contributions
to protecting the environment, promoting sustainability and using
indigenous plants for health and nutrition.
34, originally of Nowata, said he was invited to compete by his
mother Carolyn McClellan, who is the NMAI assistant director of
community and constituent services.
my education and experience, she thought it would be a great opportunity
for me to come to D.C. and showcase all my talent," McClellan
competition was Chef Richard Hetzler, the executive chef for the
NMAI's Mitsitam Café, who won the 2010 inaugural competition.
has been a chef for 17 years and is the executive chef at Atria
Vista del Rio in Albuquerque, N.M. He describes his dishes as "flavorful
said he prefers to keep his preparations simple and flavorful and
that his Southwestern style meshed well with the competition's
ingredients of corn, beans and squash the traditional "Three
Sisters" among Native farmers.
said having worked with the main ingredients for the past six years
as a chef in Albuquerque prepared him the competition. He also said
he was able to use the derivatives of corn, beans and squashes in
addition to the actual ingredients.
can use squash blossoms as opposed to using zucchini or yellow squash
tortillas would constitute use of the corn," he said before the
competition. "It's going to be challenging for the simple fact that
corns, beans and squash have to be in each dish."
the competition, each chef and his assistants had to prepare two
appetizers, three entrees and two desserts using the main ingredients.
They also had fresh salmon, duck and buffalo meat available.
said creating dessert pastries is not one of his strengths and that
he was concerned about his desserts. To prepare for the competition,
he said he ate New Mexican-style food, read cookbooks and studied
various ways "the Three Sisters" can be prepared.
said one of the strengths he brought to the competition was his
ability to flavor foods to make them multi-dimensional in taste.
He takes pride, he said, in flavoring and seasoning food so that
his customers don't feel the need to flavor it after it reaches
competition was judged on taste, color and presentation and included
a time limit. The chefs had one hour for prep work and one hour
to prepare their dishes before serving.
competition was held in the museum's outdoor amphitheater,
and McClellan said during the competition the temperature was around
102 degrees, with a heat index of about 115 degrees.
said he knew he had to focus in the heat and "cook with his
heart" and that he was capable of winning because he had a
an opportunity I don't want to walk away from and say, 'oh
well, I could have done this or I should have done this.' I
want to leave it all out there in the competition," he said.
was handed down by a group of local chefs. The panel consisted of
Scott Drewno, executive chef at "The Source by Wolfgang Puck"
and last year's Washington, D.C., Chef of the Year; Brian Patterson,
Hetzler's opponent from 2010; and Pati Jinich, executive chef
at D.C.'s Mexican Cultural Institute and host of the cooking
show "Pati's Mexican Table."
report from the competition states McClellan was the crowd favorite.
However, he lost by one point, 629-628.
said he "loved the competition," networking and getting
out of his "comfort zone" and believes it will help his
said it was a learning experience and that it confirmed he could
keep up with the "big boys."
know that I can cook, and I've been doing it for a long time.
People love my food," he said.