Colorado chef wins keys to her own restaurant in national contest and $1M to outfit the space

Tara Alatorre
Sky-Hi News
Karoline Schwartz is the executive chef and general manager of food and beverage operations at the historic Grand Lake Lodge.
Emily Gutierrez/Sky-Hi News

Tabernash resident and executive chef at the Grand Lake Lodge, Karoline Schwartz, was named the winner of the Own Your Own Million Dollar Nationwide Restaurant Challenge on Oct. 29. She was given a restaurant space in downtown Burgaw, North Carolina, including $1 million to outfit it.

Schwartz outcompeted more than 500 chefs that applied for the contest. She rose to the top during a Town Square Cook-Off against 23 other chefs on Oct. 21 where competitors served their signature dishes in a pop-up kitchen to hundreds of locals. Schwartz’s dish was a braised and seared pork belly served with crispy goat cheese and honeyed muscadine grapes. Every ingredient in the dish was sourced locally in North Carolina.

The judges narrowed down the competition during the cook-off to 12 finalists. Of the 12 semi-finalists only six chefs were chosen to move on to the next series of challenges – working at local restaurants planning menus, cooking and interacting with local customers. The six were chosen based on their business plans, people skills, presentation, taste and concept. Judges then deliberated for hours before selecting Schwartz and Vincent Mangual of Brooklyn, New York, as the top two finalists.

On Sunday, Schwartz and Mangual prepared a three-course meal for 70 guests and judges for the grand finale event in the Own Your Own competition. After the dinner, guests voted for their favorite meal and the chef judges deliberated before announcing her as the official winner.

For her million dollar meal, Schwartz prepared her Nana’s mushroom soup garnished with sour cream, fresh dill and paprika oil for the first course. For the second course, she prepared a jerk spiced acorn squash with coconut cauliflower puree, crispy leeks and watercress. Tomato braised short ribs and bacon with goat cheese grits and carrot chips was the third course.

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“I’m honored to have been selected from such an amazing group of chefs from across the country,” Schwartz said. “It’s been an incredible experience getting to know them and creating friendships that would never have come about if not for OYO.”

Entrepreneur, Richard Johnson, is the founder and the driving force behind the Own Your Own competition. He lives in North Carolina and is leading a revitalization of downtown Burgaw. He is hopeful that the competition will connect investors with small businesses to help revitalize historic downtowns.

“Karoline has proven herself time and time again to be worthy of this opportunity, not only based on her culinary skills, but her ability to connect with the community,” Johnson stated in a press release that announced the winner of the competition. “In order to be successful in a small town, both quality of the food and the ability to connect with the community are key.”

Moving forward, Own Your Own organizers will be reaching out to the competition’s applicants in hopes of creating entrepreneurial opportunities for them. There is a possibility of running more competitions in the future.

Chef Karoline Schwartz at the town square cook-off in Burgaw, North Carolina. She has advanced as a finalist in the competition and is one step away from owning her own restaurant.
Own Your Own/Courtesy photo

In the meantime, Schwartz will begin making her restaurant concept, Outland, a reality. The concept is clear – make great food centered around the act of community-making. She wants to focus on food made from scratch, while showcasing the products of local sustainable farms and purveyors.

After she won the contest Schwartz said, “I’m so excited to have the opportunity to bring my food to the people of Burgaw and be a part of this community.”

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