Home / News / ECC graduate with a world-class chef career selected to compete on Fox’s ‘Next Level Kitchen’

ECC graduate with a world-class chef career selected to compete on Fox’s ‘Next Level Kitchen’


Zach Laidlaw’s career as a chef has taken him from Elgin to Miami to Hawaii and this week on Fox TV’s “Next Level Kitchen” where he will be judging the dishes of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and two other chef/hosts. heroism.

Laidlaw, a Burlington native, graduated from Elgin Community College in 2012 with associate degrees in culinary arts and restaurant management.

“Food is the perfect outlet for Zach to express his art,” said Laidlaw’s mother, Mary Sagan. “He has the personality and skills of a great chef.”

Chef Zach Laidlaw (right) and Hua Momona Farms colleague Travis Sheffield show off a culinary masterpiece adorned with farm-grown greens that grace a dish served at a Maui-area restaurant.

Sagan said his first restaurant job was as a dishwasher at Art & Alma’s Century Inn in Burlington when he was just 13 years old. Laidlaw’s brother, Kiel, also worked there and made a wonderful rib-eye that Laidlaw found so impressive that it led him to consider cooking as a career, he said.

Kimberly Rother, professor of culinary arts and hospitality at ECC, remembers Laidlaw from her programs.

“He was a young student with potential,” he said. “He did well in his culinary arts classes and was determined to complete his degree. It makes us happy to see one of our students on a big stage.”

Laidlaw, 34, currently serves as executive chef at Hua Momona Farms on Maui. Sagan said he was hired as a “Next Level Chef” last May by the show’s producers via social media.

In addition to Ramsay, the competition also features top chef/hosts Nyesha Arrington and Richard Blais, as well as contestants who fall into three categories: social media celebrity chefs, home chefs and professional chefs; Each of these will compete for a place on the teams to be led. By Ramsay, Arrington and Blais.

The first episode aired on January 28, showing what social media chefs have to offer, with home chefs competing on February 1. Professional chefs, including Laidlaw, will face each other on February 8.

We’re told there will be 13 episodes, each of which will air first on Fox and be available to watch on Hulu the next day.

The winning chef will receive $250,000 and a 12-month internship with three host chefs.

Tina Carranza, the operation’s president/COO, said Laidlaw has worked at the 25-acre Hua Momona Farms since 2019 and, in addition to working as a chef, has operated the greenhouse and overseen the microgreen program since its inception. Laidlaw’s girlfriend.

Since its founding in 2017 and launching in 2019, the produce grown has been sold directly to customers and to more than 50 restaurants and resorts on Maui and Oahu, the website said.

Carranza said Laidlaw went through a vetting process for the “Next Level” program and learned he was selected around the time the couple lost their apartment and nearly all their belongings in the August 2023 fires that devastated Maui.

He told James Evans, host of the Maui No Ka Oi podcast, that his decision to appear on the show was partly to take his mind off the disaster, but all in all he had a great experience.

Hawaii is a very different place than northern Illinois. Jennifer Fukala, now executive director of the Elgin Downtown Neighborhood Association, remembers when she trained Laidlaw as a server at the Applebee’s in Elgin, where she worked from 2005 to 2007.

“He was a fun-loving, free-spirited guy, a skateboarder who marched to the beat of his own drum,” he said. “He was a visionary and passionate person with conviction about a career in the restaurant industry.”

Zach Laidlaw, a Burlington native and Elgin Community College graduate, harvests produce grown at Hua Momona Farms on Maui.  Laidlaw, a trained chef, competes "Next Level Kitchen" It airs on Fox TV and Hulu.- Original Credit:
Zach Laidlaw, a Burlington native and Elgin Community College graduate, harvests produce grown at Hua Momona Farms on Maui. Laidlaw, a trained chef, competes on “Next Level Kitchen” on Fox TV and Hulu.

His post-college career initially kept him in the area, where he held chef jobs at Porter’s Pub at Bowes Creek Country Club and, for a time, Art & Alma’s.

Through connections he made in the Chicago area and elsewhere, he began working at restaurants in South Beach Miami, Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, Australia, and spent some time at (Mick) Fleetwood’s restaurant in Lahaina, Maui.

John Perry, who worked with Laidlaw at the Elgin Applebee’s, said he wasn’t surprised that his childhood friend was chosen for the show.

“Zach is an enterprising guy. “He’s a lot of fun to be around,” said Perry, who now lives in Houston.

Perry and Sagan noted that Laidlaw’s outgoing personality served him well and helped him obtain the globe-trotting career opportunities he has had.

But they said he was also affiliated with the Hawaiian ranch where he worked and was currently living with Carranza. Laidlaw said it led Evans to become involved in efforts to feed those left homeless by the fire, just as they do for those who lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since August, this has meant providing 30,000 hot, healthy ready meals to the community, he said on the podcast.

The farm also has a foundation that raises money for relief efforts through its website. www.huamomonafarms.com.

Mike Danahey is a freelance reporter for The Courier-News.


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