Chef and restaurateur Austin Sumrall can now add Food Network champion and $15,000’s worth of bragging rights to his list of culinary accomplishments.
Sumrall won the grand title and monetary prize during a recent episode of “Alex vs. America” which features Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli competing against three chefs from different states in two rounds of cooking. Anyone — even Guarnaschelli — can be sent home after the first blind tasting by the judges.
During “Alex vs. Southern Comfort,” which was the third episode of the third season, Sumrall competed against Guarnaschelli, Chef Tamra Patterson of Chef Tam’s Underground Cafe in Memphis, Tennessee, and Chef Justin Burdett of Acme Restaurant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
The owner of White Pillars in Biloxi even earned the nickname “Mr. Fancy Pants” from Guarnaschelli during the cooking competition. When host Eric Adjepong introduced Sumrall as the owner of an upscale southern restaurant on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, a James Beard nominee for “Best Chef: South” and was crowned “King of American Seafood!” in the 2021 Great American Seafood Cook-Off, Guarnaschelli said “Ah, Mr. Fancy Pants” and it stuck throughout the competition.
But despite owning a southern restaurant and lounge, the McComb native was a little out of his comfort zone during the competition. Since White Pillars focuses on fine dining, Sumrall had to dig deep into his Mississippi roots and in 45 minutes created fried chicken, collard greens, stone ground grits, fried okra with white barbecue sauce, and cornbread in a picnic-style setting on a paper plate.
The dish, however, landed Sumrall in the bottom two and he was nearly eliminated in the first round.
Judges Adrienne Cheatham and Kelsey Barnard Clark praised his chicken and cornbread and were impressed with his sauce, but added the plating didn’t look like it belonged at a picnic.
“I thought everything tasted really good,” Sumrall said. “They didn’t love my grits, which is crazy because I feel like I make really good grits, but they said they were under-seasoned. I was surprised to be at the bottom. It kind of took my breath away and I could hear Alex saying it’s too fancy, but it’s just not my style to plate on paper.”
During the second round, the remaining chefs had 35 minutes to create a farm-fresh brunch plate.
Sumrall redeemed himself by once again making grits along with oyster mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and a gremolata, with the outcome resulting in his dish being ranked first as the judges gushed over Sumrall’s signature menu brunch dish, Grits & Grillades.
“I’m definitely getting farm vibes,” Cheatham said as Clark quickly added, “I would marry this.”
Sumrall’s winning dish is regularly featured on the White Pillars brunch menu. He said it was a “privilege and an honor to beat Alex” with a menu favorite.
Photos are courtesy of The Food Network.