Local boy makes good (food)


Brett Eisen has done what no other Missourian has ever done…he won the National Chef of the Year competition hosted by Johnson & Wales University (J &W). This Parkway Central High School senior was the grand prize winner in the dinner category and won a full-tuition scholarship to the culinary school.

“I was numb, I really did not think it was happening,” Brett, son of Richard and Marci Mayer Eisen, said about hearing his name called at the awards banquet held on the J &W Miami, Florida campus. “It was really competitive with a lot of talented kids. My teachers were crying, my mom was crying, and my dad was really happy.”

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Over 500 applicants submitted their recipes for this 19th annual student culinary competition and of them only 20 were invited to come to the Miami campus for the finals: 10 in the dinner category, 10 in desserts. Brett was accompanied by his parents and two of his teachers. His winning dish was an oven-roasted Chilean sea bass with a citrus Israeli couscous cake topped with a watercress fennel salad and finished with a vanilla tangerine reduction.

“At the banquet, they announced the 10th through fourth place winners, so we thought Brett was going to win third place,” Marci said. “Then when they announced the third place winner, we thought he was going to win second place. Then when they said who the second place winner was, we thought they forgot about him. And then he won!” Brett’s family and teachers knew the competition was going to be steep, especially since some of the kids came from culinary high schools.

“He’s worked really hard to get where he is today and puts so much effort into everything he does,” said Linda Trecker, Brett’s culinary arts teacher at Parkway Central. “Before we left for the competition I told him even if he doesn’t win he’s inspired me. He has a natural talent for being able to put things together with whatever is in the refrigerator.” She said it’s his combination of intelligence and hands-on talent that makes him special. And even though he’s inspired a lot of kids, he’s humble and doesn’t want the spotlight.

Brett started this journey last year when he entered the competition as a junior but didn’t make the finals. This year, he started working on his submission early and sought out a mentor to help him: Jon Lowe, the executive chef at Oceano Bistro. Brett met Lowe when his family, members of Central Reform Congregation, ate dinner at Oceano about a year ago and he discovered Lowe had attended J &W.

“He called me out of the blue and said he was going to enter this competition,” Lowe said. “He came in just about every week for about six to eight weeks and we’d try out different aspects of the dish.” Lowe said Brett has a good head on his shoulders, is outgoing, very well-spoken, and will go far. He said that Brett will benefit from what he’ll learn at J &W, in areas such as terminology, tools, and experience working in the kitchen environment.

Marci said that Brett has been playing in the kitchen since he was around 11 or 12 years old. “He pulls things out of the refrigerator and sees what he can make for himself,” she said. “But he’s still a kid who likes to play volleyball and hang around with his friends.” In fact, he’s co-captain of his high school’s volleyball team and has been a coach and referee for kids at the JCC for basketball and flag football for the past two or three years.

Trecker said that Marci has been Brett’s biggest inspiration because she let him play and experiment with food. Marci said it’s really a story about helping your child find his or her own path. “It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. My friends like that I cook because when they come over they ask me to make them something,” Brett said. “And what girl doesn’t want a guy who cooks?”

Brett’s ultimate goal is not to work in a restaurant. He wants to combine his passions for sports and cooking to work with athletes and to focus on nutrition.

And even though his friends kid him about winning and his school welcomed him home with balloons and signs he says: “I’m just a normal kid who loves sports and hanging around with my friends. Cooking is something I’ve always had a passion for.”