Columbia chef named semifinalist in best midwest chef competition

Sunday, February 15, 2009 | 5:27 p.m. CST; updated 11:50 a.m. CDT, Monday, March 9, 2009

COLUMBIA — Chef Mike Odette, co-owner and head chef at the Sycamore in Columbia, is one of 25 semifinalists for a James Beard Award in the Best Chef: Midwest category.

Winners of James Beard Awards, deemed "the Oscars of the food world" by Time magazine, are the who's who of the culinary world.

"This would change my life," Odette said. "Many winners have gone on to be household names. It's a career milestone to even be in the running for it."

Odette, who has worked at the Sycamore since its opening in 2005, said the nomination was unexpected and a tremendous thrill.

"I have no idea who would have nominated me, but we've got our fans, folks that like us and look out for us," Odette said.

Online ballots will be distributed to more than 400 judges, and finalists will be announced on March 23. In the meantime, Odette is just going to continue with what he does best.

"I like to keep preparations simple, let ingredients speak for themselves and let the appealing qualities of ingredients stand out," Odette said of his cooking philosophy.

Given the opportunity to impress the judges with a specific dish, Odette said he would serve them a braised pork belly that's been cured for a couple days, slow-cooked in broth and served with apple and cabbage slaw.  

One Kansas City restaurant and five other Missouri chefs — two from Kansas City and three from St. Louis — were also recognized.

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