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Blue Wahoos Chefs Win Top Honor, Earn Place In World Food Championships 

Blue Wahoos executive sous chef Carl Sackman, left, and executive chef Travis Wilson, celebrate Oct. 15 after earning a Golden Ticket award at the Innisfree Food Challenge. (Photos by Deb Maxwell, Leah Wilson)
October 18, 2023

The Blue Wahoos will soon be represented in a culinary version of the Super Bowl. Travis Wilson, the Blue Wahoos’ executive chef, along with executive sous chef Carl Sackman, teamed with special creations that wowed judges and earned a qualifying spot in the 2023 World Food Championships, to be held

The Blue Wahoos will soon be represented in a culinary version of the Super Bowl.

Travis Wilson, the Blue Wahoos’ executive chef, along with executive sous chef Carl Sackman, teamed with special creations that wowed judges and earned a qualifying spot in the 2023 World Food Championships, to be held Nov. 8-12 in Dallas and featuring more than 700 acclaimed chefs from across the globe.

The tandem, both Pensacola natives, were named best overall in the Innisfree Food Challenge last Sunday at Casino Beach Pavilion on Pensacola Beach. The event was presented by Innisfree Hotels and PensacolaBeach.com.

The duo received a “Golden Ticket” award, which punched their ticket to the World Food Championships at Fair Park in Dallas, site of the Texas State Fair.

“It felt like a 16th seed beating a number one seed in March Madness,” said Wilson, smiling. “We definitely weren’t expected to place, let alone get a gold ticket. We’re always underdogs.

“We get counted out, because we work at a baseball stadium, but we’re always out to prove that we’re about more than just hot dogs.”

Blue Wahoos executive chef Travis Wilson, holds his daughter while preparing a meal for judges with Wahoos sous chef Carl Sackman on Oct. 15 in the Innnisfree Food Challenge.Photos by Deb Maxwell, Leah Wilson

The daylong competition on Pensacola Beach featured 14 teams of chefs, some local, some from traveling to Pensacola to compete with creations in three separate categories. Each dish had a two-hour time limit to prepare. The Blue Wahoos team earn praise for all three of their delights.

“I told my family and friends it was the biggest thing that I have ever been awarded, the biggest accolade I can really look it,” said Sackman, who joined the Blue Wahoos staff in 2018 after working at Jackson’s and Global Grill.

“Because this (World Food Championships) it’s basically our Olympics, our Super Bowl, our everything. It is a different level of honor for sure,” he said.

Wilson and Sackman began the first round of competition in the bacon category. They prepared a creamy Risotto Arancini cake, stuffed with coffee-bacon jam, topped with a bourbon-plum glaze with crusted-in pork rinds, bacon, and panko.

“We wanted to utilize the bacon jam that Carl has been perfecting for a few years and everyone loves,” Wilson said. “We did a bacon jam, so it’s a little off the beaten path from your typical BLT.”

Blue Wahoos chefs Carl Sackman, left (green shirt) and Travis Wilson (white shirt, hat) learn they had earned a Golden Ticket to the World Food Championships after qualifying a Innisfree Food Challenge on Oct. 15.Photos by Deb Maxwell, Leah Wilson

The second category was a sandwich creation. The two created a black garlic duck melt with goat cheese, caramelized onions and shallot spread on a toasted brioche bun.

“A lot of people did some blackened fish and stuff like that,” said Wilson, who re-joined the Blue Wahoos before the 2019 season as the team’s executive chef. “We tried to show that we think outside the batter’s box, if you will.”

Their final creation in the wild card category was a gumbo-inspired, crab cake with several added touches.

“So basically, all the flavors of gumbo into a crabcake,” Wilson said. “We then used some crème brulee as topping and that intrigued people, because they had never seen that.”.

As various prizes were being awarded, Wilson and Sackman didn’t think they had won. And then, Mike McCloud, president/CEO of the World Food Championships asked for everyone’s attention.

“He said, we want to call the Blue Wahoos guys up to get special recognition for the best overall food.’ He said we were in the talk of the top food in every category we entered,” Wilson said. “They awarded us a ‘Golden Ticket’ for our creativity.

“(McCloud) said he always travels to these qualifying competitions with an extra Golden Ticket and if he sees somebody that intrigues him, then he make sure it is recognized and awarded. It was special for us that they respected everything we put out there.”

“He told us that the talent, the skill and creativity that he saw from our dishes, that he just knew we had to be there (at World Food Championships), which was very cool to hear.”

The Blue Wahoos chefs have competed in other contests, but Innisfree Food Challenge was the first of its kind and the first with a potential chance to advance into the World Food Championships.

“It was a cool environment, because everyone is kind of out to help each other,” Wilson said. “So the team next to us helped us and we tried to help the team next to us. One of the chefs was from Orange Beach and he said he didn’t think people would be so nice at an event like this.”

“It was a good chance to meet some new people,” Sackman said. “Some of the new up and coming chefs in the area.”

The next event for Wilson and Sackman was Oct. 19 at the fourth “Farm To Table, Under The Lights” gourmet dinner event on the playing field at Blue Wahoos Stadium.

The duo is preparing a four-course meal accompanied by various wine selections. A local musician was arranged to perform as well as other elements about the evening.

“We care just as much for that night as the contest we were just in,” Wilson said. “We want all of those people to feel special. We want them to compliment us and give the same kind of feedback we just received.”