Cooking contest winner offered prestigious job

By Colin Rajala - Staff Writer
Windsor - posted Thu., Dec. 6, 2012
Vito's owner and chef Rob Maffucci (center) stands with 'So You Think You Can Cook' finalists Kimberly Coccomo and Robert Lewis. Photos contributed. - Contributed Photo

What started out as a friendly competition between nine different cooks of varying degrees trying to figure out if they had what it took to do professional production cooking under pressure quickly boiled down to a fierce competition between four worthy adversaries. One cracked under pressure and one over-estimated his opponents before two were left to compete for the top prize in the Vito’s restaurants "So You Think You Can Cook" competition.

On Dec. 1, Robert Lewis, of New Britain, and Kimberly Coccomo, of Windsor, squared off at Vito’s by the Park in Hartford in the finale of the inaugural competition. The cooking competition came down to the wire, but in the end Lewis persevered, winning the top prize by the closest of margins.

With the victory, Lewis will have his signature dish and name on the menu at Vito's by the Park in Hartford and Vito's by the Water in Windsor and will be cooking a farm-to-table dinner for 10 of his friends alongside Vito’s owner and chef Rob Maffucci.  He also received a $50 gift card from Back East Brewing in Bloomfield.

“All along, Robert was such a humble guy,” Maffucci said. “It was amazing because every chance he had he was complimenting everybody else. Anyone watching the show just naturally was going to root for Robert because he was just so humble.  He clearly won every round.”

In addition to the grand prize, Lewis was offered a prestigious position within the restaurant group. Maffucci offered Lewis a position as a traveling sous chef, working in both the Windsor and Hartford locations, as well as traveling throughout New England with Maffucci running the group’s Chef Dinners, special events and high-end catering for premiere clients.

“Robert blew my mind," said Maffucci. "I had the opportunity to watch him perform three times under incredible pressure and constraints, and every single time he was able to turn out remarkable dishes with time to spare.”

“I never thought I would impress him that much,” Lewis said. “I knew that in my years of training and just cooking that I have some sort of skill, but I did not know that I could actually captivate someone like that with my dishes.  When he offered me the job I was shocked. I couldn’t say anything except, 'Wow, hard work pays off.’”

In the first part of the finale, the two chefs had 20 minutes to prepare an appetizer. Right off the bat, Maffucci threw them a curveball by showing them a bowl of nothing as the mystery ingredient. He wanted the chefs to be creative and come up with something off the cuff to represent themselves without any restraints. Lewis prepared pan seared scallops with truffled white beans, tomato and asparagus, while Coccomo made stuffed mushroom with sausage and broccoli rabe. When Coccomo put the mushrooms into the oven to cook, she accidentally shut the oven off, requiring her to roast the mushrooms over the stove in a Dutch oven to plate before time expired.

The chefs had 30 minutes to make an entrée using four mystery ingredients, gorgonzola, fennel, pears, and shrimp. Lewis crafted a pear and gorgonzola risotto topped with roasted fennel and beets as well as seared shrimp. Coccomo created a fennel, pear and shrimp penne topped with some melted gorgonzola.

For her second-place finish, Coccomo received a three-course sit-down dinner for five which she will use to celebrate her mother’s 86th birthday. "I had a wonderful time," said Coccomo. "This was a great opportunity to go up against some incredible local home-chefs, and I'm so happy with how things turned out."

The video of the final round will be posted on

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