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Andy Shallal, the man behind the concept-bending Busboys & Poets chain,loves food shows. It’s no surprise, then, that Shallal has taken a reality-show approach to hiring a chef for his forthcoming Eatonville, a southern-food restaurant located across V Street from the original Busboys & Poets location. The owner’s requiring his top candidates to compete in a week-long cook-off to land the gig.
The first stage of the contest begins tomorrow when 10 finalists prepare a meal, however they envision it, based on Zora Neale Hurston‘s novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. (Not coincidentally, Shallal pays homage to Hurston with Eatonville, which is named after the writer’s hometown in Florida.) Shallal and Top Chef finalist Carla Hall helped narrow down the field from the more than 200 chefs who originally submitted resumes via Craigslist; to those 10 finalists, Shallal and Hall Michon Boston, a project director for the Humanities Council of Washington, DC, provided details on Hurston’s life (and her D.C. connections) as well as a synopsis of Their Eyes Were Watching God to help them with tomorrow’s competition. Each finalist was also sent home with a copy of the book.
The 10 candidates were each awarded $100 to help cover the costs of their meals. Five chefs will move onto the next round on Monday, March 2, which will narrow down the field to three candidates, who will then compete on Wednesday, March 4. The final two chefs will challenge each other on Thursday, March 5, to find out who gets the gig. Hall will be a judge for the final challenge, Shallal says, and money will be awarded to the winning chefs at each stage.
Chefs, Shallal says, typically “work under pressure. That’s how you judge a good chef….I wanted to put them in a little pressure cooker situation.”
Shallal, of course, will also reap some publicity from the stunt. He doesn’t plan to announce the winner until about six weeks after the contest ends, he says. Why? Because Shallal’s filming the competition and plans to put each challenge on the forthcoming Eatonville Web site to build excitement about the restaurant and its new chef.