Emma Louth’s culinary skills didn’t quite make her famous. However, one thing’s for sure. The 21-year-old senior at Drexel University and Naugatuck native has quite the cult following.
Louth, a 2007 graduate of Naugatuck High School and culinary major at Drexel, won the Acqua Panna Fan Favorite Award during the 9th annual S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition held earlier this month in Napa Valley, Calif.
Louth was one of 10 finalists in the competition in which culinary students from across the country and globe compete for the chance to make the finals and win the grand prize of $10,000 and a year-long paid apprenticeship with a chef of their choice.
The finals were streamed live online and viewers were given the opportunity, at the end of the competition, to cast their vote for their favorite chef.
Louth garnered the most votes taking home the Fan Favorite Award and a $3,000 prize.
“Thanks to those who voted for me,” Louth said. “It was very exciting.”
The Almost Famous Chef Competition first caught Louth’s eye early in her college career.
Louth explained Drexel University hosted the regional competitions during her freshmen and sophomore years.
“When I got to senior year I knew it was something I wanted to participate in,” Louth said.
So, Louth made her signature dish-roasted bison tenderloin with smoked, deep fried oysters-and was chosen by her faculty as one of two Drexel students to move on to the regional competition in Baltimore, Md., held in January.
At the regionals, Louth had two hours to cook eight portions of her dish for the judges. When it was all said and done, she won.
“I was surprised,” Louth said. “But, at the same time I thought I had a chance.”
After winning the regionals, it was off to California for a weekend of culinary clashes March 11 through March 13.
The first event was the “mystery basket” competition in which the finalists were given ingredients, the main one being a rack of pork, to cook anything they wanted. Contestants had 15 minutes to create a recipe and two hours to cook ten entrees.
Louth said the mystery basket contest was a bit nerve-racking because no one knew what ingredients they would be given before hand. Louth made braised pork chops with roasted root vegetables and fresh ricotta.
On final day of the competition each contestant had to make their signature dish in appetizer portions for 200 people.
Once the competition had ended, the voting began for the Fan Favorite Award and the tally could be seen by all the contestants.
“Myself and one other person were neck and neck the whole time,” Louth said.
Louth said she had a lot of family and friends watching all weekend and as the votes drew to a close in tight fashion she frantically called people to let them know to cast their vote for her.
And her fans came through.
“They were fighting on the home front I guess you could say,” Louth said.
On the home front is where Louth’s interest in cooking was first sparked, although she didn’t know it at the time.
Growing up, Louth said she would always watch her father and grandparents cooking and couldn’t pull herself away.
“It was really sort of something I was drawn to,” Louth said. “But I don’t think I noticed at the time.”
As a high school student, Louth’s attraction to cooking grew when she took a culinary arts class. By the time she went on to college, she had decided a future in the culinary arts was for her.
Louth described her experience during the competition as surreal but exciting. She said it was thrilling to be able to cook for so many high-ranking professionals in the culinary industry and have them taste her dishes and her give her feedback.
The Naugatuck native will graduate in June from Drexel with a major in culinary arts and a minor in education. What comes next is a mystery basket all its own.
Louth said she plans to travel abroad after graduation in order to work in different places and countries to learn a variety of culinary specialties. After that, she might open her own restaurant down the road or possibly go into teaching.
“But, who knows,” Louth said.
One thing is certain. Wherever Louth’s culinary path takes her she will always have her fans.