It’s a chilly, but sunny Thursday in March as we at Food + Travel walk up the stairs to enter the chaotic event room of the venue. We take our seats and patiently wait for the interview to begin.
The room is filled with folded tables, racks of chairs, and hundreds of pounds of food on a massively long table, as our muse is running around, setting up the room, and positioning everyone around her. “Can we make sure that these tables do not block the exit? It’s a fire hazard. Thank you!” she says as she sits down for our interview. She shows a bright smile, shakes our hands, and gleefully thank us for coming.
The muse is Charmin White, Managing Partner and Midwest Market Director at Social Power Hour, creators of Chef Battle, Bartender Battle, Say Cheese Fest, Wine Bash, Donut Fest and other various events. I’m enamored in her ability to shift her brazen focus to me.
“What a day, right?” Charmin starts.
We both laugh and share how our day has been.
Thanks for our meeting with us today, we’re excited to discuss Chef Battle. And based on the chaos around you, it looks like a pretty awesome event! Let’s discuss how you got to this point.
(Laughs) I’m sure. What was the journey like?
Well, the journey was all over the place initially. After I graduated college, I relocated to Chicago and began working as a Brand Ambassador for various companies. Liquor companies, BP, Coca-Cola, Shape Magazine–I mean you name it, and I’ve done it. After working with these brands for a few years, I developed a curiosity for the process of working on the other side of marketing.
And from there….?
From there, it led to transitioning into corporate and learning a strong marketing and business acumen. I mostly worked on the branding and operational side of the CPG industry. But eventually, I was approached by Social Power Hour to lead the Chicago market after working with the company for years to before as a brand ambassador team lead, event producer and market director, as the company expanded with a West Coast office. And here we are.
Awesome! What do you like most about what you do?
Hmmmm. Well this industry does not feed your need for instant gratification by any means, so it’s nice to see something that you’ve planned for months come to life.
Yeah, I bet.
And there are also lots of perks that come with this job. And you get to rub elbows with lots of cool people on a regular basis. So, that can be nice too.
So, our readers want to know, what is Chef Battle?
Chef Battle is a culinary fight. We have 2+ chefs who compete live for the rights to be named the best chef in their city. The chefs have limited ingredients and have 1-hour to make their best dish with limited equipment, time and assistance—as they only get 1 sous chef. The audience watches the full process and root for their favorite. After plates are presented to the official judges, the crowd gets to sample the dishes and vote for their favorite chef as well. It’s an experience for the chefs, the crowd, the judges. Everyone.
I bet people are anxious to sample.
Oh, for sure,. Not only that, we partner with many alcohol companies to sponsor tastings or drink tickets. It’s a good time for people who like to enjoy events that aren’t the norm, you know?
Definitely. Which city has been your favorite that you’ve traveled to for Chef Battle?
I really enjoyed Detroit. I had never been there before so it was awesome to see what they had to offer. Lots of history there too.
Yes, Detroit is a staple. It doesn’t get the love it deserves as a city.
Lots of corruption but it’s on the upswing.
For sure. Has there ever been a chef that you rooted for or that stood out to you?
Oh, of course. We love all of our chefs and appreciate their hard work, what they do is not easy whatsoever. But there was this one chef in St. Louis that I adored. Chef Kevin Culver of our St. Louis competition. He’s a chef with California Pizza Kitchen. He had so many challenges thrown at him–I mean, it truly just wasn’t his day that day (laughs). His stove almost burned his sous chef’s arm off, his power on his outlet kept going out. He chose his protein last (chefs are unaware what protein they’ll use for their dish prior to the event date and each draw a number for selection order of what they have to cook with). He just had so many variants that probably altered the outcome for him, which is part of the battle, but he never complained. He had the most positive attitude the entire time. And he was curious about getting better. He came up to me after the event and asked for feedback and his boss did as well, so I really liked him. It’s never easy to see chefs who put so much work into these events, not win, you know? But he will go far, I guarantee it. And I will support him.
I also was a fan of Chef Teren in Detroit. He’s a day chef for the Pistons, actually. He won his competition by a landslide. Cool guy.
Nice. What have you learned about food since becoming a producer for food events?
Good question! Um probably mostly that people love to eat (laughs). So if events are done correctly, they will follow.
Oh okay, makes sense. So, what’s next for Chef Battle and Social Power Hour?
Wine Bash and Donut Fest! We’re excited to introduce these festivals to everyone. Expect to eat and drink a lot (laughs).
For Chef Battle, we have the Midwest regionals in Chicago coming up on April 28. It’s taking place at the ultra premier vibe dining restaurant, STK. The winning chefs in the midwest return for an ultimate cookoff for bragging rights and to be named the best chef in the midwest. DJ Brent Flowers will be our resident DJ and the event will be hosted by Chicago comedian Cigi Farmer. We’re excited. It’ll be a great time.
We’ll be there! Any advice to those looking to get involved in event production?
Commit. Don’t be swayed. You won’t make sense to a lot of people. Those people aren’t your audience. (laughs)
This was great. Thanks for your time with Food + Travel!
Thank you guys!
She gets up and I immediately realize that her focus is no longer on the interview. Her staff comes up to her and she has shifted back into work mode. From there, we pack up and get ready the night.
Disclaimer: Food + Travel and Social Power Hour have the same parent company.