JRG Steaks, Cicero Company, LLC
HEAD COOK: Lisa Gwatney
COMPETITION: World Invitational Steak Championship
I am a 52 year old professional who has worked at FedEx for the past 28 years. Prior to that I worked my way through college receiving my bachelor degree in accounting and master’s degree in strategic leadership, graduating with distinction. I am also a licensed pilot. During the day I am responsible for complex decisions and people, during the evening and on weekends I relax in my kitchen cooking for my family and friends. Every Saturday I go to our local farmers market. I know the farmers by name. I love making my way through the market, selecting some beautiful fresh ingredients. On Sunday my daughter comes over and we cook together. It is a great opportunity for us to spend time together and often my neighbor Jody will come hang out with us.
I grew up in an Italian American family on a farm in Michigan. Food brought family and community together. I can remember at a very young age standing next to my grandmother on a stool to help her cook. My father came from a family of fourteen kids and cooking with my grandmother was no small task! For my parents family was everything and for most of us who have both parents working life can get pretty hectic. I have always had the goal of having my family at the dinner table even if it was on paper plates – but the food is always good! I tease my husband that I wish I could have our friends over every night. I like the noise in the house and love sitting around and talking and laughing over food.
I am happily married to my precious husband Russell who cooks with me. We have four wonderful children and five grandchildren. When our youngest went to college I was bored and wanted something to spend my spare time on. I am NOT a sit still person. Two years ago I become involved in the Steak Cookoff Association competing competitively cooking steaks. It was a great way for me to exercise my passion for cooking. It was so easy to get involved because you only needed a grill! My husband and I are a team and really enjoyed the community of other competitive cooks. I call it a friendly competition because we are all friends. As I began to excel I earned the opportunity to go to the World Food Championship in Orange Beach, Alabama this year. I registered immediately - excited at the opportunity to compete and cook. As the competition grew closer and I learned more I quickly became intimidated and almost did not go at all. My husband has always been my greatest encourager and really gave me the confidence that I could be successful so at the last minute I entered my recipes and we went to the World Food Championship. Once we arrived I was not nearly as nervous. I was in a kitchen and cooking and having fun doing it. So many people that I knew were there and it was great catching up with everyone and I met some really wonderful new friends in the different categories. Ironically I had not prepared a recipe for the final round – truly not anticipating that this being my first time at this amazing competition that I would make it to this round. When I make it to the top ten, my husband and I scrambled immediately to formulate a recipe using the coffee and steaks that were provided and required ingredients. Both ingredients were great and that is always the beginning of any great recipe. We wanted to utilize the fresh gulf seafood and incorporated crab meat to create a coffee infused steak Oscar with asparagus. The judges loved it and my recipe scored high enough to make me the world champion. I am really excited about competing in April and wish it was time to go already! Going into the WFC in 2018 I will be less nervous, just as excited and hopefully more prepared! I cannot wait to see all of the new friends I have met as well!