Kowalski's Wins Big at National Chef Competition

Our own Culinary Director, Chef Rachael Perron, was recently named National Grand Champion of the Supermarket Chef Showdown. The competition, presented by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), was held June 11 at the FMI annual convention in Chicago on the show floor at McCormick Place. The live competition was judged by professional chefs and industry experts in a special kitchen stadium created just for the event. 24 finalists competed, including 7 returning competitors and all 4 finalists from the last Showdown; Chef Perron was the only competitor from Minnesota!

The competition included five categories of competition: Healthy Meals; Side Dishes, Mini-Meals and Snacks; Ethnic Meals; Family Meals; and Desserts. Chef Perron defended her 2012 title in the Healthy Meals category. At the last Showdown in 2012, she won this category with her recipe for Spiced Orange Yogurt Parfaits. This year her recipe for Greek Grain Salad with Dilled Feta Dressing not only snagged the category win but also won Chef Perron the ultimate championship title. Healthy Meals recipes were required to meet specific criteria for calories, fat content, fiber and sodium, etc. At the same time, each recipe had to feed a family of four and contain three sponsor products but not more than 20 ingredients, including a whole grain. It must also be able to be prepared in less than 20 minutes. Chef Perron added a level of difficulty by entering a vegetarian dish, which was not required. All five categories were judged on the following criteria, among others: taste, consumer appeal, creativity, presentation and several very technical elements (such as knife skills, doneness and seasoning).


Greek Grain Salad with Dilled Feta Dressing1 cup cooked red quinoa, cooled
1/2 cup cooked wheat berries, cooled
2 tsp. Crisco® 100% Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice (approx.),
1/2 tsp. McCormick® Gourmet Collection
     Mediterranean Oregano Leaves
1/2 tsp. kosher salt, divided
1/2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper (or
    more to taste), divided
1/3 cup low-fat plain yogurt
1 ½ oz. French feta cheese, crumbled
2 tbsp. snipped fresh dill
1 tsp. freshly grated lemon zest (approx.)
1 cup rinsed and drained canned garbanzo
1 cup halved grape tomatoes
1 cup peeled, chopped cucumber
6 dried apricot halves, finely diced
2 tbsp. finely chopped red onion
2 tbsp. thinly sliced green onion
2 tbsp. chopped fresh Italian parsley
4 small (4" diameter) whole wheat pita breads, cut into wedges

In a medium mixing bowl; toss grains with oil and half of the lemon juice. Season with oregano, 1/2 of the salt and 1/2 of the pepper; set aside. In a small mixing bowl, whisk yogurt with cheese, dill, zest and remaining salt, pepper and lemon juice; set aside. In a large mixing or salad bowl, combine beans, tomatoes, cucumber, apricots, onions and parsley. Add quinoa mixture to bean and vegetable mixture; toss gently to combine. Divide salad among 4 serving dishes; serve each portion with an equal amount of dressing and pita wedges.

Serves 4

Perron said, "I entered the competition again this year because I love the attention this competition brings to the supermarket as a culinary epicenter. A lot of attention is paid to restaurant chefs and TV chefs, but grocery stores are where people come to get the makings of most of their meals. At Kowalski's, for example, our customers are looking for easy meal ideas; fresh, flavorful inspirations; and healthy choices, especially in prepared foods. Supermarket chefs have a great impact on how people live and eat at home, at work and on the go; they ensure that what we're offering our shoppers is the very best."

Speaking about the competition, Leslie G. Sarasin, FMI president and CEO, remarked, "FMI aims to cast a deserving spotlight on the culinary expertise found in neighborhood supermarkets across America, as Supermarket Chefs share their menu creativity, flavor findings and kitchen skills with grocery shoppers every day. The 2014 edition of the showdown at FMI Connect in Chicago promises to enlarge that spotlight with expanded categories and recipe challenges; allowing even more chefs to let their tastes, talents and techniques shine on our industry-wide stage."

Phil Lempert, a food trends and consumer expert and the Showdown Executive Producer and Master of Ceremony, said, "Supermarket Chefs feed millions of Americans daily but receive little recognition. This Showdown gives them the opportunity to further explore their culinary talents."

Sponsors for this year's Showdown included the world’s leading companies: McCormick, Campbell's, Can Manufacturers Institute, ConAgra Foods, Hass Avocado Board, Hershey's, Hillshire Brands, Mondelez International, Musco Family Olive Co., Pictsweet and Smucker's. Media sponsors include Celebrity Chef Magazine and Supermarket News.

Among the prizes she won, Chef Perron will receive an all-expense paid trip to Nashville and tickets to a luxury box at the CMAs. This prize was provided by Pictsweet.

About Chef Perron

Rachael Perron is the Culinary Director at Kowalski's Companies. A passionate and award-winning chef, she develops recipes for Kowalski's and serves as Editor-in-Chief of both At Home with Kowalski's and "In Touch with Kowalski's." Rachael works with chefs, departmental directors and customers to develop and promote new products and educates and advises about emerging trends in foods and flavors. Her professionalism, positive energy and enthusiasm for all things delicious are infectious.

Chef Perron lives in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, with her three favorite taste-testers – her husband, Jerry, and their two school-age children. Outside the kitchen she loves reading, photography, board games, walking, travel, watching movies and avoiding yardwork as much as possible.


Wow, what a great store Kowalski's is. We live in Dayton and have DLM Markets but they don't come close to comparing to Kowalski's.
You are very fortunate to have Rachael Perron on your team.

Congratulations on winning the competition in Chicago! It's a great accomplishment, and the salad sounds delicious.

But more importantly, who cuts your hair?? I love it--and as it's very hard to find stylists who can do short hair, when I see someone with a good, stylish cut, I ask where they got it done.


Thanks, Michele! Emily Gormanson from Revive Salon in White Bear Lake styles and cuts my hair. She is the best!

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