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Cheryl Hoban mixes up a batch of her special chutney. Brian Basham/DL NEWSPAPERS

Local chef heads to Vegas competition

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Local chef heads to Vegas competition
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Cheryl Hoban is headed to Las Vegas.

She’s not there to vacation or play the slots. Well, not entirely anyway. She’s there to win a food competition.

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Hoban flew out for Vegas this morning (Wednesday) to be registered this evening for the Next Top Product Contest. She admitted Tuesday night that she was a little nervous about the competition, but also pretty excited.

“It’s unreal,” she said. “I have an entourage going with to cheer me on.”

About 20 people will be in Las Vegas to support the long-time Fair Hills Resort cook.

Late this summer, Hoban’s U.S. Food representative Shawn Sweere suggested that she enter U.S. Food’s cooking competition. She agreed to it, entering the cranberry chutney she had developed for the pork dish she served Thursdays at Fair Hills.

Chefs were allowed to enter one of four categories: bakery, hot appetizers, sauces, or dips and spreads.

She won the first round of the competition, and then won the national competition that was based on votes from the general public. She garnered 57 percent of the Midwest region votes.

She said it’s been incredible the support she has received on this journey. She has had people voting for her that she’s never met before, but they happen to know a neighbor or a friend of hers.

“It’s been totally overwhelming the amount of support from all over the place.”

Once she gets to Vegas tonight, she will register for the competition. Then on Thursday, she and the other seven contestants will meet with a representative for the competition.

“We will tour the kitchen area where we are going to be cooking and check for ingredients.”

They will have the opportunity then to go out and purchase any other materials they may need that hasn’t already been provided for them.

Then Friday, it’s competition time.

The competition is being held on Freemont Street, downtown Las Vegas, and the contestants will have a tent area to prepare their food.

Each contestant is allowed to prepare one item that complements their competition food. Hoban is preparing pork prime rib because that’s what she first created the chutney for at Fair Hills.

She developed her chutney by throwing some fruit and seasonings together — apples, cranberries, mango and apricot.     

“The first time or two wasn’t what I wanted. It wasn’t tangy enough,” she said back in September about developing the recipe.

She made a couple batches, tweaked each of them and was finally pleased with her chutney.

Now it’s time to see if the four judges at the competition are pleased with the chutney as well. She said by 5:30 Vegas time on Friday evening, she will know the winner.

Monday was Hoban’s birthday so it would be nice to bring home a special birthday present, she said with a laugh.

If Hoban wins the Next Top Product Contest, Fair Hills will be awarded $15,000 in equipment from U.S. Foods, and Hoban will be awarded $5,000 cash.

Her chutney would also be bottled and sold by U.S. Foods.

Even if she doesn’t take top honors, Fair Hills will still be awarded $1,000 just for getting to the finals.

“It’s a win-win,” she said.

The grand prize though, “that would be so special,” she said.

Originally scheduled to return to Minnesota after the competition, she extended her stay in Vegas a few days and plans to have some tourist time as well. She’ll come home Monday instead, hopefully with a top chef title.

She thanked everyone who voted for her and got her to the final round of the competition.

“It makes me very happy to be from this small town,” she said.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.

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