Chef Wins Hot Fame, Cold Cash

Praise continues to flow for Wheeling chef Matt Welsch who has won a national chefs’ competition on the Food Network.

Welsch, owner of the Vagabond Kitchen in downtown Wheeling, captured a cooking title on “Guy’s Grocery Games,” a television show hosted by celebrity chef Guy Fieri. Welsch’s winning episode aired Wednesday night on the Food Network.

A day later, a big fan of the show made a special trip to the restaurant to congratulate Welsch, whom she had never met. On Thursday afternoon, as newspaper photographer Scott McCloskey shot photos of Welsch outside his restaurant, passersby honked their car horns, waved and shouted congratulatory words to the chef. One of McCloskey’s photos illustrated my feature article that appeared in Friday’s editions of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register.

As noted in Friday’s article, the cook-off itself didn’t guarantee any prize money for the winner. However, by winning two rounds of food preparation challenges, Welsch earned the right to participate in a shopping spree in which he had to identify food items by clues given by Fieri and then find those items on the shelves and in bins of the show’s grocery store.

Welsch managed to guess correctly and locate all five items with 15 seconds to spare in the timed challenge. For his efforts, he won a total of $20,000, with each item worth $4,000.

The five food items featured in the shopping spree were Caesar dressing, panko bread crumbs, Yukon Gold potatoes, skirt steak and Vienna sausage. Welsch had no difficulty guessing and finding the first four items, but he hesitated on the clue for Vienna sausage. But, as viewers held their collective breaths, he solved the puzzle and searched desperately for a tin of the canned meat. Finally, he found the elusive item and threw it into the grocery cart just in time.

Recalling the quest for Vienna sausage, Welsch said, “That (clue) threw me for a bit of a loop, then I couldn’t find it. It was crazy.”

Initially, Welsch and three other chefs were given a challenge to prepare a signature dish in a short period of time and were handed $40 each to purchase the necessary food in the show’s grocery store. After two chefs were eliminated from the contest, Welsch and a chef from Los Angeles advanced to the second, and final, challenge. They were instructed to prepare an upscale version of a food representative of their home region, using whatever amount they had left from the original $40 to buy the ingredients in the show’s store.

Describing the experience, Welsch said, “It was definitely nerve-wracking, but I treated it like any other busy night in the restaurant. You put your head down and do the job.”

To prepare for the show, he participated in “brainstorming” sessions with chef Chris Kefauver, associate professor of culinary arts at West Virginia Northern Community College. He said Kefauver gave this advice for facing the show’s challenges: “It’s just a job; it’s just another job. You have to have that mindset. Treat it like that.”

Welsch commented, “I’m always trying to do the absolute best meal I can … (For the show) I’m thinking, ‘Try not to concentrate on the lights, the celebrity chefs. Don’t get over-excited or cut myself or burn myself.’

“You do the best you can and hope it’s good enough.”

In addition to the Los Angeles chef, he faced competitors from Atlanta and New York City. When they weren’t shopping or cooking, the four contestants interacted and shared their culinary experiences. “We got to spend a little bit of time together. They were all great and fantastic,” Welsch related.

The Wheeling restaurateur hopes to visit some of the other chefs’ eateries. He said, “I’ll definitely stay in touch with those guys. They are all very talented and great folks.”


On a sober note, my heart goes out to all of the Ohio Valley residents who were affected by last weekend’s floods and are facing another potential Ohio River flood this week.

I’m grateful to be living outside a flood zone now, but I remember vividly the tension, anguish and toil of dealing with many river floods over the years. I’ve been there, done that, and have the bleach-stained T-shirts to prove it.

My wish for people living in flood-prone areas is that flooding isn’t as severe as predicted; that their losses are minimal and that they receive aid needed to clean up the mess that floodwaters leave. As for other folks, please help the flood victims wherever you can and in whatever ways possible.

Plus, I beg you, if you’re not in a flood zone to help, please don’t go there as a sightseer — that irresponsible behavior causes undue traffic congestion and consternation for residents.

Linda Comins can be reached via email at: lcomins@theintelligencer. net.