At its locations in Pendleton and Union, Boomtown Biscuits & Whiskey whips up unique twists on comfort food staples. The team behind the delicious dishes has no shortage of cooking stars, either. Amongst them is Chef Christian Gill, a foodie through and through whose competitive spirit is showcased through his numerous appearances on the Food Network.
His new episode of the Guy’s Grocery Games summer tournament airs tonight at 9 p.m., as he and three other talented chefs race down supermarket aisles to complete shopping and cooking challenges. Gill already has a GGG title from Season 18’s “Comfort Food Cook-Off” episode, in which he prepared a Cincinnati-style chili poutine. Gill fondly remembers the show’s exhilarating environment–and the suspense is real.
“It was super thrilling to win,” Gill says. “That was the first food competition show that I’ve won, and it was a very strenuous and harrowing filming process, just because that clock is real. That’s basically a real grocery store. It’s essentially the length of a football field. You are just barreling down each aisle however fast you can go, looking for the most random ingredients.”
While filming alongside fellow GGG champions, Gill made valuable connections with other chefs. “It turns into a cohesive little ‘land of misfits’ family on all of these shows,” he explains. “I definitely have made some friends for life.”
He’ll be competing in the Great American Seafood Cook-Off in New Orleans in August with a couple of his Grocery Games cohorts.
Gill will also appear on Beat Bobby Flay on July 7, which, contrary to shows he’s filmed before, takes place in front of a live studio audience and presents brand-new rules: “You have 20 minutes to prepare a dish using the star ingredient on Beat Bobby Flay,” he says. “That is the least amount of time I’ve ever had to prepare a dish on any show. You have no idea what the star ingredient is going to be.”
If he beats the challenger chef in the first round, he advances to a face-off with celebrity chef Flay.
Both shows presented a unique challenge to Gill, but the filming processes for each had their individual quirks. “The difference between Grocery Games and Beat Bobby Flay is night and day,” he notes. “Grocery Games is this indoor football field arena grocery store with more canned product than you could ever hope to use, and Beat Bobby Flay is this gauntlet with a live audience that is overlooking the arena floor, just wanting more entertainment.”
Gill is grateful for the experience he has gained over the years in the Cincinnati competitive cooking scene, which prepared him for both his Grocery Games victory and his participation in new shows. Specifically, he recounts his experience with Cincinnati Food Fight, an annual competition in which both locals and visitors come together to cook, eat, and judge various dishes. “It’s a live audience of all your peers in the food and beverage industry,” he says. “That gives the pressure of cooking in front of people who also know how to cook.”
Gill’s everyday life is filled with creating new food, and Boomtown is no stranger to innovation. “With it being biscuits and whiskey, and always wanting to make sure that we stay grounded in the concept of biscuits, it took a lot to think outside of that biscuit sandbox.”
Similar to the process of thinking up new dishes in a split second, developing the restaurant’s menu was no easy feat. “We had to be creative–be creative on the fly, be creative with a budget,” he explains. “With the food shows, you have no time. When Guy says ‘go’ on Grocery Games, it’s go, and you literally are thinking up the dish you want to make while running around the store.”
Challenging as they are, Gill has a lot of gratitude for the gauntlet of these competition shows, and he says they’ve strongly aided in his personal growth as a chef. “Learning how to be more efficient in the kitchen, and learning how to be more creative with ingredients that I wouldn’t necessarily use, or whatever I have in front of me…delivering more flavor in a smaller vessel is definitely something it’s helped me be better at.”
His advice to those hoping to make it big is simple: eat everything.
“It doesn’t matter what it is, eat it, try it,” he says. “You may like it, you may not like it. But the cool thing is, you have that sensory experience that you can take, and then the next time you need to make something that’s salty, sweet, sour, whatever, you have that experience of that ingredient or that dish, and you can pull from it, or it can inspire you to make something like it, or something better, something greater. The only way you’re going to go from good to great is to eat everything.”
Chef Christian Gill appears on Guy’s Grocery Games July 6 at 9:00 p.m. and Beat Bobby Flay on July 7 at 9:30 p.m. on the Food Network.