Creating an original entrée recipe inspired by the popular street-food trend sweeping the nation was the challenge for the 2011 TABASCO® Brand Hottest Chef Contest®.

Michael Mao, sous chef at Johnson’s Grill in Newark, Del., won the $10,000 prize for his Triple Threat Carnitas Naan Tacos with Chipotle Tropical Salsa and Spicy Mint Sour Cream featuring three different pepper sauce flavors—TABASCO® brand Green Jalapeño Pepper Sauce, TABASCO® brand Chipotle Pepper Sauce and Original TABASCO® brand Pepper Sauce.

Nicole Picinich, enrolled at Washburne Culinary Institute in Chicago, took the competition’s student-category prize of $2,500 for her Chipotle Chi-Town Pita Chicken Sliders Stuffed with Blue Cheese Crumbles & Smokin’ Blue Slaw. Contestants were asked to submit recipes using fresh, easily sourced ingredients.

“My dish was inspired by my multicultural background and exposure to some of the world’s most popular ethnic cuisines, combining Indian, Mexican and Asian influences,” said Mao about his prize-winning street food
“Both of the winning recipes successfully incorporate bold flavor and hints of world cuisine we’re seeing in the foodservice industry; they also reflect a simple, cost-sensitive approach consistent with today’s challenging economic climate,” said Martin Manion, vice president of corporate marketing for McIlhenny Company.

The professional and student category winners were awarded cash prizes and will be featured along with their winning recipes on McIlhenny Company’s President and CEO, Paul McIlhenny, along with top New Orleans chefs—including John Besh of Restaurant August, Besh Steak, Lüke, La Provence, Domenica and The American Sector; Adolfo Garcia of RioMar, La Boca, a Mano, Gusto, The High Hat Café and Ancora Pizzeria & Salumeria; Tory McPhail of Commander’s Palace; Tom Wolfe of Wolfe’s Restaurants; and Sue Zemanick of Gautreau’s—comprised the judging panel and selected the professional and student winners at Delgado Community College in New Orleans.

The finalist dishes were prepared by Delgado culinary students under the direction of McIlhenny Company Executive Chef Judson McLester. In keeping with this year’s theme, “Hitting the Streets,” McIlhenny Company designed the judging session to include real-world training for Delgado students to learn how to create fresh, street savvy menu items and keeping up with one of America’s hottest culinary trends.