Tampa chef, James Beard semifinalist heads to Kentucky Derby

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While horses and jockeys get ready to run the "the greatest two minutes in sports" at Churchill Downs, top chefs from around the country are preparing to show off their culinary skills for the glitterati of the crowd.

"Taste of the Derby" takes place Thursday evening in Louisville, Kentucky and will feature 15 celebrity and award-winning chefs from around the country. One of those chefs will hail from the Tampa Bay area.

James Beard semifinalist Ferrell Alvarez, of Rooster & the Till, Nebraska Mini-Mart, and Gallito fame, will represent the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs in this showcase of taste sensations. "Taste of the Derby" is a hunger-relief fundraising event, with chefs chosen from cities with qualifying races for the Kentucky Derby.

Alvarez plans to prepare foie gras ganache with huckleberry gastrique, soft pear, cashew nutella and honeycomb brittle.

Tuesday, he joined Good Day to talk about the honor, saying he was "super honored to be a part of it" and expected it to be an "amazing experience."

The Good Day crew prepared a traditional Derby dish to welcome him: Bourbon balls. Alvarez offered home cooks some suggestions on easily enhancing the dish if they'd like to prepare it for Saturday's race. Here is one version of the bourbon ball recipe:

1 cup crushed Nilla wafers
1 cup finely chopped pecans
2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups powdered sugar, plus more for rolling Bourbon balls in
1/4 cup bourbon
2 tbsp. light corn syrup

1. Mix together Nilla wafers, pecans, cocoa powder, and powdered sugar in a mixing bowl.
2. In a separate bowl, mix together bourbon and light corn syrup.
3. Combine both mixtures together, mix well, cover the bowl, and chill for at least an hour.
4. Scoop small tablespoon-sized portions of the chilled mixture, roll into balls, and then dredge in powdered sugar.
5. OR instead of the final finish in powdered sugar, roll bourbon balls in melted milk chocolate chips. Then, let cool and harden on a parchment paper-lined tray.

Chef Alvarez's offered the following enhancements:
- Substitute pecans for another nut of your liking: pistachio, hazelnut, almond, etc.
- Add a few drops of mint extract to the melted chocolate coating
- Instead of the final finish in powdered sugar, use a more textured sugar of your liking