VIRGINIA BEACH — For the nine years she’s been at Longhorn Steakhouse, Amanda Salas had never worked at the grill.
Despite that, she was able to win regional Steak Master Series.
Salas has been working mainly front of the house but on a whim she decided to throw her hat in the ring and compete for the annual Steak Master Series competition.
Longhorn Steakhouse’s annual competition starts at the restaurant level, pitting grill cooks and other staff against each other to see who can grill the best steak, said Dennis Tierney, managing partner at Longhorn Steakhouse.
Every restaurant has a written test and then a grill-off where contestants have to grill three steaks to the Longhorn Steakhouse method, he said.
“It’s a way for people to brush up on their knowledge and it promotes awareness for the brand,” Tierney said.
The winner of the restaurant grill-off goes on to compete against winners from the eight other restaurants in the region, then onto the mid-Atlantic level where they compete against 86 other winners, and finally onto the national level against all 513 stores.
Salas had never worked back-of-the-house other than cooking small meals for herself, so coming back there and learning was a bit intimidating at first.
“I really wanted to learn,” she said.
The way Salas learned was through teaching videos, help from the other cooks and lots of practice, she said.
Seasoning and cleaning the grill and figuring out when the steak was done were all essential parts to a perfect Longhorn Steak, Salas said.
She had to learn how to determine when the steak was done based on the feel of it, no thermometers were allowed in the competition, she said.
Despite not having much experience, Salas won the restaurant competition as well as the regional competition.
She moved on to the mid-Atlantic level and won 6th place out of 86 other cooks.
“I was so nervous. It was so great, I was in disbelief [when I won],” she said.
She was able to do well on both the written and grill tests because she had taken the time to learn all the steps.
Salas said she will apply again next year for the competition but plans to stay front-of-house at Longhorn Steakhouse for now.
“I’ve been invited to a lot of barbecues though,” she noted, laughing.
The first-place prize for restaurant winners was $75, for regional winners, $250, for mid-Atlantic winners, $1,000 and at the national level, $10,000.