The original life plan was to go to law school.
But after earning his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Utah, chef Ben Steigers said “I took a hard pivot.”
“I had a part-time job in a restaurant and those people were not only my coworkers, but they were my friends. They were my family,” he said.” “They were the people that I wanted to spend my time with. So that kind of made the choice easy for me.”
He never applied for law school. After college graduation, Steigers said he took a two-year sojourn around the world working in kitchens from Europe to Asia and across the U.S.
Those experiences — and growing up in a military family that moved a lot — gives the Clearfield native a good chance to win “The Globe,” a new culinary competition that started July 17 on the new discovery+ streaming service.
Steiger’s episode, “No Utensils Allowed” will launch July 24.
In each episode, hosted by Food Network star Robert Irvine, four chefs are virtually transported to some of the best food destinations around the globe with the help of a giant LED screen that stands 15 feet tall, is 180 feet wide, weighs 20,000 pounds and has 20 million pixels.
The competition formula is familiar: in each round contestants prepare dishes using the native ingredients and cooking methods of each city. Each round their work is critiqued by award-winning chef, Daniela Soto-Innes, and a guest chef with ties to each region.
The winner of each of the four preliminary episodes earns a free trip to one of their destination cities — and a chance to compete in the final episode for a chance to win $25,000.
Steiger’s episode, entitled “No Utensils Allowed” starts in Mexico City with tacos, moves to Maui for a plate lunch and finally lands in Ethiopia, where the last two competitors create a vegan platter without the use of forks and knives.
During a recent telephone interview, the 34-year-old Steigers — who currently is working as a private chef — talked about his travels, the influence of his Korean mother and what he has in common with Irvine. His comments have been edited for space and clarity.
Where have your travels taken you?
I started my culinary career in Salt Lake City at (the now-closed) Naked Fish. I made a lot of good memories there. But, I soon realized that if I wanted to pursue a serious career in the culinary field, that I would have to expand my repertoire. So I decided to book a one-way ticket to Europe. I landed in Copenhagen, where I worked at a restaurant called Noma for a while. After leaving Noma, I worked for a fisherman in Norway. I also worked in a restaurant in Tokyo, for a chef that I had admired. I worked in Philadelphia and Boston and San Francisco — and opened restaurants for Chef Michael Mina. I’ve also worked in Australia and I’ve been to South America.
Did those experiences help you on the show?
Yes, travel not only gave me exposure to different countries, but it opened my eyes and really helped me see that food is so much more than just sustenance, right? There’s a story to it. There’s history. There’s so much packed into each dish. So you can really get to see and get to learn about a culture, and a city, just by eating the local food.
Who or what had the most impact on your culinary career?
My mother is from Korea and that’s probably one of the biggest influences in my life. It kind of pushed me towards choosing food as an occupation. We actually spent a good portion of my childhood living in Korea so we would travel back and forth. Just seeing the love and the care that she would put into every dish that she made — it kind of ignited my passion.
What was it like to work with Robert Irvine, the host of The Globe?
It was great. We have similar backgrounds. He was raised in a military family and his wife is also Korean, so we had a lot in common. I it was it was fun to meet another chef and talk about things other than just “What are you making?”
What was the most difficult part about the competition?
When I’m in the kitchen, I’m very methodical about each dish that I put on a menu. I’ve tested it four or five times and tweaked it and changed the recipe and changed the sauce and it’s a very involved process.
With the show you’re shown the ingredients and then immediately you have 30 minutes to throw something together. It’s one thing to just say, oh, I think these two ingredients will go together and they’ll taste good. But to tell a story with with your food and be culturally appropriate and have food that celebrates the culture of the city, that’s an added layer that is hard to do in 30 minutes, That was the most difficult part, trying to come up with what is the right thing to make.
There are a lot of cooking competition shows, why should people tune in to The Globe?
This show celebrates the things that I feel are important in food, and that’s culture and telling a story and focusing on the natural ingredients. People are going to see ingredients that they’ve never seen before. They’re going to travel to places that they’ve never even heard of before and get to see what the local culture is. They’re going to get to meet the local guest chefs from each of these cities. And I think that is really cool — and that’s on top of a very fun and exciting competition.
Were there any items that you had never seen before?
Yes. At one point, I”m going through the pantry and I’m like, what is this? Sticking it in my mouth and trying to figure out how to use it. It was definitely a challenge and a new experience.
When you’re not in the kitchen, what do you like to do?
I am a pretty typical Utahn. I ride mountain bikes and do a lot of snowboarding in the winter. I like to go hiking and explore nature. I also like foraging — picking wild herbs and mushrooms and bring them home to cook with.
If you win the grand prize, what will you do with $25,000?
I would love to open a restaurant and bring some of my worldly travels and those stories back to Utah. That $25,000 would go a long way to helping me realize that dream.