When Michael Jacobs, chef for the Miami Heat players, announced the two competitors for the first round of the Fill the Grill Challenge at the Coral Gables Whole Foods Market, one of the contestants asked for a slight change in title.
"Just call me Jim. Robyn's the chef around here," said Jim Heins, owner of the Latin Burger and Taco food truck. He was about to compete against Robyn Almodovar, a Le Cordon Bleu graduate who has graced the kitchens at the Hyatt Regency Fort
Lauderdale and The Forge, currently owns Palate Party food truck and is a competitor on this season's Hell's Kitchen.
After that point was duly noted by the contestants (Almodovar playfully
high-fived, then hugged Heins), it was time for the games to begin. In a
riff on many Food Network shows, contestants had 20 minutes and $20 to
purchase the ingredients they needed to feed three judges. They also has
a pantry with basics like salt, pepper, oil, and basic seasonings at
their disposal. After the purchase phase, each chef (or cook) had 20
minutes to prepare and plate their dish, which would then be judged for
taste, presentation, and originality.
Once the clock started, Almodovar and Heins dashed out to the floor.
Almodovar made a beeline for the seafood, choosing fresh grouper. Heins
was found at the meat counter, buying ground grass-fed beef and a spicy sausage.
With two minutes left on the shopping clock, Almodovar found she was $2 under. She ran to pick up some fresh herbs, while Heins
tried to figure out how to shave $2 off his tab (he was over his
limit). After some negotiation, hustle, and a much smaller onion, both
contestants were checked out and ready to cook. (Almodovar, by the way,
checked out at $19.57, while Heins managed to check out at $20 even).
As cooking commenced, Almodovar seemed in her element. Vegetables were
grilling, a garlic/wine reduction was simmering, and the fish was being
prepped. Heins, however, ran into a little snafu as his poblano pepper caught
fire. Quickly placing a pot on the pan to smother the flames, it can be
said that Heins put on a good show for the crowd.
With nine seconds to go, Almodovar's dishes were already plated, as Heins
tried to get all the elements together on his dish -- making it just as
the crowd counted down to one. The result?
Robyn's grilled grouper, served with grilled cherry tomatoes, zucchini, and a little mache, was a gorgeous dish.
Heins riffed on his truck's Latin Burger, serving grilled lettuce topped
with grated cheese. A side of caramelized onions was added to eat alone
or place on the burger.
After the judge's tally, the winner was announced. Jim Heins won by a narrow margin for his grilled lettuce and grilled burger combo.
Heins advances to the finals, which take place on Thursday, August 16, at
6 p.m. Next Thursday at 6 p.m., Alfredo Montero of Mr. Good Stuff
battles Eileen Andrade of CUBANCUBE to decide who battles Heins in the
All fill the grill challenges are free to the public (wine, beer, and
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bites are provided) and are located in the community room (behind the
wine and cheese) at the Whole Foods Market in Coral Gables.