It was as much snow-fest as Master Chef in Aspen this week, as over half a metre of snow blanketed the slopes, coinciding with the 4th Annual Australian Celebrity Cooking Contest, an invitation-only event, presented by Aspen Snowmass, The Little Nell and Residences at The Little Nell. Held in advance of Australia Day proper, the original concept behind the contest was to “cook up” excitement for Australia Day. It has now become a beloved tradition among visiting Australians, ex-pats residing in Aspen, and Australia enthusiasts.

Past challenges have been Pavlova (2014), Meat Pie (2015), and Lamington (2016) while past celebrity judges have been Celebrity Chef Neil Perry, his wife, Sam Perry, and Olympic silver and gold medalist snowboarder Torah Bright. For 2017, the theme was ‘Shrimp on the Barbie,’ with Australian Celebrity Chef Matt Moran, who has judged many televised competitions from MasterChef to Heat in the Kitchen to The Chopping Block, presided over the competition to determine the winner with the “best prawns.” Former Australian Olympic track and field star, Jane Fleming, served as emcee. Chefs from six restaurants in the Aspen Snowmass area took part, each asked to prepare their best ‘Shrimp on the Barbie’ dish for the judge and upwards of 60 guests. Competitors included: 

 – Ajax Tavern – Chef Chris “Gerber” Mathie

– Cache Cache – Chef Nate King  

– 520 Grill – Chef Troy Selby 

– The Limelight Hotel – Chef Christopher Randall 

– The Little Nell – Chef Oscar Carrasco

– The St. Regis Aspen – Chef Kori Sutton

The event was staged at the festively-decorated Chair 9 après-ski bar at The Little Nell with a DJ spinning top Aussie tracks. Guests enjoyed wine, beer and “Aussie-tinis,” a signature Champagne Punch in the colours of the Australian flag, while sampling the shrimp dishes. After a blind taste test, Chef Matt Moran cast his vote for each dish with scores based on the following criteria, weighted equally for each category: Aroma, Appearance, Consistency/Texture and Taste.

Creativity ruled for the day, with Champion Chef Nate King of Cache Cache for his Charred Wild Ecuadorian Shrimp with Mango-Lime-Miso Sauce & Ginger/Scallion. King was pleased with his first place win, noting he now “needs to visit Australia,” having never been. Chris “Gerber” Mathie of Ajax Tavern came in second with his appetite-whetting Green Curry Grilled Shrimp, and Oscar Carrasco of host venue The Little Nell came in third with his dish, Shrimp and Citrus. Chef Christopher Randall of The Limelight captured the Audience Favourite Award for his dish, Chimichurri-Marinated Carolina White Shrimp. The Little Nell’s Managing Director, Australian Simon Chen, said. “After our win last year with the Lamington, we were hopeful for a repeat victory. Clinching second and third place for prawns will do just fine as an alternative. Congratulations to Cache Cache and Chef Nate.”