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updated: 3/3/2010 5:23 AM

Culinary student sets out to become 'Almost Famous'

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  • Bacon-Wrapped Halibut Tournedos with Polenta Wedges, Brassica Seed Peppercorn Sauce, Red Wine Apple Coulis and Wilted Watercress and Apple Salad by Kendall College student Brian Schreiber of Streamwood.

    Bacon-Wrapped Halibut Tournedos with Polenta Wedges, Brassica Seed Peppercorn Sauce, Red Wine Apple Coulis and Wilted Watercress and Apple Salad by Kendall College student Brian Schreiber of Streamwood.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographers

By Deborah Pankey

Remember the name Brian Schreiber.

The Streamwood High School graduate is on track to make something of himself in culinary circles as evidenced by his regional win in S. Pellegrino's Almost Famous Chef Competition.

Schreiber, 21, says he's always been drawn to food and cooking and recalls falling asleep on his parents' bed with "The Frugal Gourmet" on the television. In high school he worked in a bowling alley snack bar making burgers and pizzas.

It was also in high school that Schreiber found he thrives not only in the heat of the kitchen but on the heat of competition. He'll be put the fire again this weekend in Napa, Calif. as he goes against nine other S. Pellegrino regional qualifiers for $20,000 in prizes and a paid apprenticeship at a top restaurant.

Describe an early food memory: Growing up I always had an attraction to food and cooking... but it was really the family trips to Tennessee to visit my great grandma where when you walked into her house it always smelled like something sweet was baking. I always looked forward to her chocolate pie; that is really where I found my love for cooking.

When did you know you wanted to be a chef? I always knew I liked to cook but it wasn't until a high school competition I competed in, that I realized it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. In this particular competition I was teamed up with two students from two random high schools. We received a menu that as a team we had to work on. Although, I had no training at all in the kitchen I used everything I had learned just by watching the Food Network. The end result was the first dish I had ever prepared that I was truly proud of. It was also my first competition I won.

What was your first job in a restaurant kitchen? My first real kitchen job I received coming into Kendall College from a man I had met through my high school cooking competitions. He remembered my professional attitude and asked me to apply at his new restaurant, Graze, that was opening up in the heart of Chicago. Working there I was the youngest cook on the line at the age of 18.

I started out in the pantry station and within three months of working there had proved myself to the chef that I was ready for the hotline. In the long run that first kitchen job has really enforced everything you need to survive in a kitchen: Passion. Discipline. Intensity.

What are some of the restaurants you've worked in since that first job? Moving on from Graze I worked for ZED 451 were I was a grill chef and many occasions got the opportunity to work on new menu items. I also had the opportunity to do an internship at the The Phoenician, a 5-diamond resort in Scottsdale, Ariz. It was a great experience and hope I can go back soon. I also work for Levy Restaurants as a kitchen supervisor at Ravinia in the fine dining restaurant Park View.

What is your favorite place to eat and hangout with friends? I love going to the Dining Room at Kendall College with my friends. For me it's a great meal I can afford, after all I am a college student, and it also gets me a chance to catch up with friends. I have recently discovered great friends and family plus some good food and nice wine equals one pretty cool life.

If you had a small group of friends coming over, what would you serve them? When I have friends over I like to keep it simple yet flavorful. I really enjoy having friends over in the summer for barbecues were I might slow roast a pork shoulder over a charcoal grill for 8 hours and make pulled pork sandwiches.

What is your favorite ingredient and how do you like to use it? I recently discovered how great polenta is. Its cheap and so many things can be done with it. For example, at Christmas I mixed it in a parsnip puree... so good. Also, in my signature dish I did for S. Pellegrino I mixed polenta with potato, herbs, cheese and made it into something quite tasty, if I do say so myself.

Do you have a favorite pig-out food or guilty pleasure? Where to start? If I had to choose one of my favorite foods it would have to be a good Italian beef sandwich.

Are there any TV or celebrity chefs you admire? Recently I have had the opportunity to meet a few while training for S. Pellegrino, such as chefs Tony Mantuano of Spiaggia and Art Smith of Table 52. Both were incredibly nice and gave me some great advice for competitions. One chef who I recently had the pleasure of meeting was James Beard-winner chef Gale Gand (co-)owner of Tru. I loved watching her show ("Sweet Dreams") on the Food Network and to meet her in person was truly a dream come true.

What would you tell teens who are considering culinary school? If you're not sure if the kitchen is right for you go to a restaurant and ask a chef if you can volunteer for a day and at the end of that day you'll know what's right for you.

What's your career goal? After college, I plan to continue to work under some of the best names in the food service business and do some traveling until the day comes when I feel I am ready and qualified to take on the name and title of executive chef.

Tell us about the S. Pellegrino contest. After hearing about it I knew instantly I wanted to do this competition. The S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition was created to find the next chef prodigy if you will; the next young chef who will have an impact on people's decisions on what they might want for dinner. Since then I have done my best to learn as much as I can at school and working in the industry. It wasn't easy and life threw a lot of hurdles at me some of which made me want to quit all together at times but with the help and support of all my friends and family I can't believe I made it to Napa Valley.

The national competition is broken down into four competitions over two days. The first day is mystery baskets where competitors won't know what they have to work with until the start of the competition. From there competitors must create a highly stylized yet flavorful dish in two hours.

On Day Two we have four hours to create 200 tasting portions of the signature dish that got us to Napa. We'll serve and plate the dishes for a gala of 200-plus people who get to vote on their favorite dish.

This year they will also be streaming live both days of the competition and on the second day viewers from home can also vote on who they think the next almost famous chef will be. (You can watch and vote at The chef with the highest score will be named The Next Almost Famous Chef.

Tell us about your dish: My signature dish, Bacon-Wrapped Halibut Tournedos, was inspired by a quote I once read: "opinions are based on our past food experiences." This inspired me to go back and look at all my experiences with food and think about that moment when I decided this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I wanted to create another dish like that first one that I created at the high school competition, but using everything that I now know about food and flavors.

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