Sam Blackburn received top honors at California Giant's 2020 Chef Invitational. ( Courtesy California Giant Berry Farms )

California Giant Berry Farms announced winners of its third annual Chef Invitational culinary competition.

Chef Sam Blackburn, from Sodexo North America, was named Top Chef for his Pan-Seared Pacific Halibut with Pickled Strawberries and Fermented Blueberry Bacon Fried Quinoa and Blackberry Mushroom Sauté.

“What I love about this dish is that everything about it is outside of the box,” Marie Reginato, wellness expert and cookbook author, said in a news release. “The heat from the chili pepper beautifully awakens the whole dish, and it goes so well with the tanginess of the fermented blueberries.”

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, instead of an on-site event in California where chefs prepared their dishes, Reginato prepared the entries from six finalists, posting a video and photos to the competition website.

The chefs also competed for the People’s Choice vote.

Bill Barker, of Markon/Gordon Foodservice, won this title for his Tres Berry Cakesicles.

“This recipe is so beautifully prepared,” Reginato said in the release. “The colors are just gorgeous, and I love the use of adding the actual berry puree into the cake popsicle mixture.”

Blackburn received $1,000, with the same amount for his selected non-profit, Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation. Barker received $500 and a matching grant for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“I am pleased that our California Giant Berry Farms Chef Invitational continues to garner more awareness for the brand and highlight the amazing talent from within the foodservice industry,” Tom Smith, director of foodservice and organic sales for California Giant, said in the release.

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