By Peter Covino
Gentlemen (and women): Start your ovens.
The World Food Championships officially kicked off at Celebration Wednesday afternoon. At stake: $350,000, with $100,000 going to the overall winner.
Professional chefs and non-professionals will compete in nine different food categories.
You can keep track of the winners each day by hanging out at the Main Stage (which also will host entertainment daily). Winners from every round (opening or Top 10 and the Final Table) will be announced every evening at 6 p.m. at the Main Stage. It will be through Sunday with the 2015 World Food Champ announced Tuesday night.
“We are thrilled to be here,” said Mike McCloud, president and CEO of the World Food Championships. “We have been working on this for 365 days and even longer.”
This is the fourth year for the World Food Championships, which previously had called Las Vegas home.
The event, which features lots of free things for the public to see and do, occupies much of the Celebration Towne Center.
But the main event, of course, is that cooking competition.
The centerpiece of the cooking competition is the Kenmore Kitchen Area.
“It is just one big oven,” said McCloud.
Actually, it is a street full of ovens and microwaves, totaling some $400,000 in cooking equipment. From sunrise to sunset, more than 350 teams add up to 1,500 to 1,800 competitive chefs and cooks that will be heating up the kitchen area daily throughout the competition. Competitors come from around the world (qualifying from various preliminary rounds) from 18 countries and 40 states.
The event also will include 400 judges, 278 volunteers and numerous celebrity chefs and foodies.
“This is the most ever for the competition,” McCloud said.
While many of the competitors are professional chefs, anyone can win that top prize, he said. Last year’s winner was a non-professional.
“We call it blue collar, white collar and no collar or pros versus Joes,” McCloud said.
Cooking categories include barbecue, chili, seafood, pasta, sandwich, bacon, burger, dessert and recipe.
McCloud said Kissimmee/Celebration was the perfect venue for the event.
“There is a great spirit of community. It is a great destination with a great culinary scene,” he said. “We hope to be here for many more years to come.”
“We are excited this day has finally arrived,” said Marc Reicher, chairman of the Experience Kissimmee Board of Directors.
The Kissimmee area will get some amazing exposure while the competition continues, he said.
“And it will give our guests something unique and special,” to see and do, he added.
Among the free things to do at the championships are the Tasty Morsels demonstrations and interviews held at the Sizzle Spot almost every day of the event; Mixology 101, a drinking seminar, also held almost daily and sponsor sampling.
The public is also invited to watch the various cooking championships/competition. Free public events end Sunday.
In addition, there are ticketed events like the World Cocktail Experience, World Chili Fest, Grand Tasting and more.
There is more information on all there is to do as well as ticketing information for paid events at worldfoodchampionships.com.