Creative Cooking

Six Houston Chefs Are Competing for a $10,000 RenFest Food Prize

Martha De Leon, chef at Pax Americana, ready to throw down.
Martha De Leon, chef at Pax Americana, ready to throw down. Photo courtesy of Texas Renaissance Festival
The Texas Renaissance Festival put out a call earlier this year for its first ever Royal Chef Showdown, in which chefs compete to make the best new RenFest food. The winner will take home a King's Beard award and a cool $10,000 cash prize — which is actually akin to the amount an Iron Chef winner takes home — and the dish will then be served at the RenFest, which hosts somewhere between 60,000 and 70,000 attendees a weekend for nine weeks.

So this is a pretty big deal for these chefs. And not surprisingly, hundreds of chefs applied to compete, with applicants residing everywhere from Louisiana to Michigan. Only ten chefs were selected, and six are actually from the Houston area. They are:

Martha De Leon of Pax Americana,
Michael de la Flor of Hotel Zaza,
Jennifer Sorsby of Texas Republic Kitchen
Carolyn Cobell of Carolyn's Kitchen (in Tomball)
Benoit Coquand of the Culinary Institute LeNôtre
Marcos Salazar (of Angleton), an Air Force veteran and culinary student

They'll be up against chefs from San Antonio, Round Rock and Lake Charles. The applicants not only had to submit their idea for a dish, but they also had to write about their connection to the TRF itself. Apparently, De Leon creates a new costume for every year of the festival. And a chef hailing from Lake Charles, Chris Heath, actually met his wife there.

The contest will be judged at the special "Knights of the Dinner Table" on August 30 by a slew of judges, including the Royal Judge, chef Darren McGrady, who was personal chef to Queen Elizabeth II, Diana, Princess of Wales, and Princes William and Harry for 15 years, and cooked for five U.S. Presidents as well.

Each chef has been paired with a longtime festival vendor who will mentor the chef. That's because the competing dishes need to be feasible for serving upwards of 50,000 gaping maws a day. Oh, those hungry centaurs.

The Texas Renaissance Festival will take place just in time for you to rock your totally legal sword (sheathed and peace tied, ye fool) every Saturday and Sunday and the Friday after Thanksgiving, starting September 30 and running through November 26 in Todd Mission. For more information visit

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Gwendolyn Knapp is the food editor at the Houston Press. A sixth-generation Floridian, she is still torn as to whether she likes smoked fish dip or queso better.