The culinary conversation surrounding Northwest Indiana's access to some of the world's best restaurants regularly turns to Chicago.

But a major Region event this past weekend reminded us how fortunate we are to have top chefs — on the cutting edge of culinary creativity — right here in our cities and towns.

On Saturday, seven of the Region's top microbrewery and gastropub chefs went head to head in live competition at Bulldog Park in Crown Point.

It was the first-ever South Shore Chefs of Steel contest, and given the volume of great chefs and interest in their cooking prowess, it won't be the last.

For 5 hours Saturday, the culinary wizards from restaurants spanning Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties went head to head in three impressive rounds of cooking — plus a pre-round in which they delivered their chosen signature dishes to the judges' table.

More than 600 spectators packed into Bulldog Park to watch the live family event unfold and cheer on their favorites.

Irish lamb chops served on potato pancakes, gourmet burgers that exploded with blueberry drizzle and fruit chutney and a lamb and lobster surf and turf won their respective heats Saturday.

The dishes — prepared under timed pressure — wowed the three event judges with flavor, presentation and creativity.

And that took some doing. The judges themselves — Benito Gamba, owner of Gamba Ristorante in Merrillville; Tammy Pham, owner and head chef of Asparagus in Merrillville; and Brent Brashier, owner of Doc's Smokehouse in Dyer — represent world-class talent in their own right.

Anticipation for the Chefs of Steel event built over the past several Sundays, as each participating chef was profiled, along with their signature dishes, on the cover of The Times Lifestyle section.

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Their creations Saturday night in a live competition lived up to the hype.

In the end, Chef of Steel Nicole Bissonnette, owner and head chef of Bartlett's Fish Camp in Michigan City, was crowned the first-ever South Shore Chefs of Steel Champion.

She won it on the strength of an incredible gourmet burger and that lamb and lobster surf and turf, which still glistens in the photographs from the event.

Bissonnette also carried with her an incredible story. Her son, Ian, 13, worked as her sous chef during the Chefs of Steel competition. Ian is a past contestant on reality TV cooking show, MasterChef Junior.

In the end, all seven Chefs of Steel shined as champions Saturday.

Learn more about them through their online profiles online at https://tinyurl.com/y487rvcc if you haven't already done so.

Visit their restaurants and try their signature dishes.

Most importantly, remember that Northwest Indiana is second to no region — not even big-city markets — when it comes to world-class cuisine.

Gallery: Chefs of Steel


Members of The Times Editorial Board are Publisher Christopher T. White, Editor Marc Chase, Deputy Editor Kerry Erickson, Assistant Local News Editor Crista Zivanovic and Regional News Editor Sharon Ross.