Usually, when a chef wins a reality TV show, there’s a lot of celebrating with a viewing party full of friends and family. That wasn’t the case for Chicago chef Lamar Moore, who took home the crown Thursday night on Food Network’s Vegas Chef Prizefight. Moore was declared the winner — his prize is the executive chef’s job at the upcoming Bugsy & Meyer’s Steakhouse inside the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel and Casino.
The stay-at-home orders due to the novel coronavirus forced Moore into a muted celebration. There was no watch party with T-shirts, like what former Spiaggia chef Joe Flamm experienced when winning Top Chef. Several friends called him and video conferenced with him on Thursday night after the 90-minute final episode.
Moore — who’s cooked at Chicago’s restaurants like Currency Exchange Cafe, The Smoke Daddy, and The Swill Inn — now plays the waiting game. Bugsy & Meyers, a restaurant from Caesar’s Entertainment with a name derived from famous mobsters Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky, was supposed to open on May 1 off the Vegas strip.. Crews haven’t finished construction on the $10 million restaurant. An outro screen at the end of the episode read the restaurant would open “later this year.” There’s much uncertainty in the market, “anything can change,” Moore tells Eater Chicago. But the menu is finished, and Moore is ready.
“Right now, obviously with the pandemic everything is on hold,” he says. “Vegas is on hold. But we’re all on the same page.”
Moore, a Chicago native — like other chefs across the country — has been active on social media as COVID-19 reshapes the restaurant industry. He’s conducting chef’s demos on Instagram. Last month, he unveiled a promo for the National Beef Council.
African-American chefs don’t get the same opportunities as others, and Moore has been vocal about that. There were parts of the show that made Moore uncomfortable as segments leaned into racial stereotypes, an old trick for reality TV to create tension among competitors. For example, editors could cut footage to show black contestants as aggressive or outspoken. Other contestants are shown as more cool under pressure, not looking for conflict.
One of the narratives throughout the show was Moore was a hard worker or workhorse, and though he made tasty food, judges and competitors said he didn’t make his dishes elegant enough and that he didn’t have enough creativity. A chip on Moore’s shoulder grew. As the competition lasted, Moore says he began to thrive and enter a culinary zone. He was determined to show judges and the other chefs on the show that they were wrong.
“You underestimated the talent that’s beside you,” Moore tells Eater Chicago.
Moore told views and and mentioned during the interview about his love for mentoring African-American youth. As the victor, More says he can show his mentees and others — young and old — an example of black excellence.
“Dude, you know what? It actually feels really great that a black chef won a national competition,” Moore says.
Judges asked three competitors left on Thursday’s episode to cook a signature dish that represented their culinary point of view. Moore picked skin-on seared wild salmon with a sweet corn succotash. The dish blended his love of Southern cuisine with his time spent in California.
This final test, a multi-course meal, included a dish that judge and host Anne Burrell called one of the best dishes she’s ever eaten on a competitive food show. Moore’s buttermilk fried chicken, grandmother’s biscuit, and collard greens impressed the panel. It also showed an entrepreneurial side with a special hot sauce; casino officials who sat as judges envisioned selling that sauce in bottles in gift shops.
This was the first season of Vegas Chef Prizefight. It took the familiar cooking show formula and angled the competition as a job interview. The final episode featured Moore and two other contestants. Jeff Kraus (Crêpe Bar; Tempe, Arizona) and Jeffrey Compton (Acre; Auburn, Alabama) were the runners up.
The show started with eight chefs, and Moore wasn’t the only one from Chicago. Julia Helton (Angelo’s Wine Bar, Village Tap) also participated, but audiences didn’t get to know her well as she was eliminated in episode two. Moore can empathize as this was third stint on a Food Network show. He’s appeared on Chopped and Beat Bobby Flay. Judges on Thursday’s show lauded his consistency and leadership attributes.
“I’m grateful,” Moore told the show’s panel after they declared him the winner. “I’ve never, ever won anything until now.”