WHO: Preston Nguyen, a 19-year-old freshman at Dallas College’s El Centro Campus and a 2021 graduate of Arlington’s Martin High School.
WHAT: The World Food Championships’ Final Table—a tournament of pro chefs and home cooks that ended in Columbia, South Carolina, last weekend with a $100,000 grand prize.
WHY IT’S SO GREAT: The World Food Championships bills itself as “the ultimate food fight.” It’s a fierce competition that pits more than 1,500 cooks against one another in ten categories. It’s the sort of cooking-as-sports contest that fuels reality TV competitions and attracts an audience of those who like to see people perform heroic feats with a knife, fire, and a collection of ingredients.
At the tenth-anniversary event held last fall in Dallas, ten champions emerged in categories that included World Bacon Champion, World Sandwich Champion, and World BBQ Champion (that winner is a Texan, natch). In the broadest category, World Chef Champion, young Preston Nguyen took the top spot.
During high school, Nguyen changed his plans from pursuing architecture to training as a chef. He decided to attend culinary school last fall at Dallas College’s El Centro Campus, where his grandfather obtained his culinary degree and his father, Arlington lawyer Peter Nguyen, pursued a culinary degree before opting for law school. It was there that he learned of the competition.
Following their November victory, the ten winners were brought to South Carolina for a head-to-head showdown last weekend that ended in a $100,000 prize for the winner.
Nguyen was competing against pros, including high-profile St. Louis restaurateur Mike Johnson and James Beard Award semifinalist and owner of Orlando bakery Sister Honey Evette Rahman. The 19-year-old, meanwhile, was fresh off of an internship at Arlington’s Prince Lebanese Grill, where he’d worked before moving on to Dallas’s the Mansion on Turtle Creek.
For the competition, each chef was given a set of standard ingredients and tasked with completing a meal with them over the course of three rounds. Nguyen was one of five to emerge from the first day of peach-themed competition with his seared pork chop with peach cornbread stuffing and a Carolina spicy peach mustard sauce. It was served along with Gullah shrimp and grits, a peach pot likker gravy and Old Bay potato crisp, peachy greens, peachwood-smoked watermelon radish, and peaches and cream for dessert. On the winnowed-down day two, he advanced from the second round with his take on striped bass paired with hot pepper sauce, turnip puree, and pickled vegetables. Then, entering the final round, he served up fried quail lollipops with hot honey glaze alongside Southern quail and dumplings, deviled quail eggs, and an array of Carolina-themed sides. It was enough to earn him the top prize.
Nguyen is the youngest World Food Champion in the event’s history. While he wasn’t available for comment—he was working the dinner shift at the Mansion, in between finals at culinary school—we connected with his father (who recently resumed his culinary studies alongside his son). Peter Nguyen told Texas Monthly that while a restaurant is probably in the cards, his son is looking at other opportunities first, such as television. “That’s the next step,” Peter said. “There’ve been preliminary offers on the table, but we shelved them until after this contest. Now we want to pursue the TV and social media competition avenues, now that this has concluded.” Once Preston has further built his brand, the family—which has operated restaurants in North Texas in the past—wants do to something “chef-centered” around his talents. Of course, all of that will have to wait until after the dinner rush and finals.