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Paducah chef who topped Food Network's Best Bite in Town talks recipe for success

Multiple Paducah restaurants recently competed to be crowned the area's "Best Bite in Town" by the Food Network program of the same name. Paducah has long been known for its thriving restaurant scene, and this season, the Cork Room, a wine bar and restaurant, won the episode. Winning chef Andrea Metzger spoke to WKMS Morning Edition host Daniel Hurt about her journey in the food industry and her experience on the Food Network competition.

Metzger credits Freight House Chef Sara Bradley, who has starred on Food Network programs like Chopped and Top Chef, for establishing Paducah's reputation for its food. "I think Paducah is such an epicenter for food," Metzger said. "So, we were told that we were picked as one of the restaurants, and then they came in and filmed for about two days. Then, I ended up winning."

At the time, Metzger explains that the downtown establishment "was a fresh restaurant in town. I've known Paul Cigna [the owner] forever. I've worked downtown for years, so I just kind of grew up knowing who he was. My husband and I moved back from Louisville. They were opening up the Cork Room, but they didn't have a chef. I had actually never been a chef before, so I was kind of thrown into it."

Before becoming a professional chef, Metzger enjoyed hosting dinner parties where she cooked for large groups of friends. "People have known me from having dinner parties, constantly posting pictures of my food, and having a blog. I grew up in it — my uncle had barbecue restaurants in Paducah and Louisville. I've literally grown up with food." Metzger said she's worked in every restaurant position from the front to the back of the house, and while each position was different, some similarities remained throughout each. "I think that's what helped me," she continued. "It's such a fast-paced environment. If you're a server, you know what to expect."

Metzger said she enjoyed her Food Network experience and admitted to being a bit starstruck. "They were amazing," she said. "That was something that was really scary for me because I know all of them, specifically Joe Sasto. I have followed him on Instagram for years. I feel like he is just a wizard in the kitchen, so seeing him in person was wild. We went with my shrimp and grits." The decision, Metzger explained, was rooted in a friendly rivalry between herself and Cork Room owner Paul Signa.

"One evening, Paul and I were back in the kitchen, and he said, 'Oh, I make really good shrimp and grits,'" Metzger explained. "Paul is kind of like a brother, and that's how we had that dynamic. I was like, 'Well, I make one that's better.' So, he was like, 'Alright, well, let's see.' After cooking he was just like, 'Okay, well, that's amazing.' So, we put that on the special, and I formulated that. It's been a favorite of mine."

Metzger said what makes her dish stand out was the Creole sauce and spice. "I like spice," she said. "And with my grits, I was never a fan of shrimp and grits, and then I thought, 'Okay, if I'm a southern girl and that's my thing, and I'm from Kentucky, I have to make myself like that. So, I just went to Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. I got a bunch of different sorts of cheeses, cream, and it was formulated."

While she enjoyed her time on Best Bite in Town, Metzger said she was hesitant to view it as an actual competition. "At the end of the day, I don't want to think of it as a competition just because I've lived in other places, and I'm telling you, there's no food like there is in Paducah. It's just a great showcase for all the restaurants in Paducah to be a part of." On winning, Metzger said, "I think it's unreal. I think that I'm still kind of like in shock mode just because I can't get over that I accomplished something like that. You know, coming from not going to school. But I really, truly think that when you're passionate about something, that's what shows." Since the taping of Best Bite in Town last year, Metzger has since moved on from the Cork Room to Grand Rivers, where she runs Green Turtle Bay Resort restaurants Pier 32 and the Tiki Turtle.

"We've kind of revamped them and changed them," Metzger said. "Tiki Turtle is a midcentury tiki bar that serves smash burgers and pizzas. Pier 32 is similar to what you saw on the show. But go try and support all local restaurants. That's what matters at the end of the day."

Hurt is a Livingston County native and has been a political consultant for a little over a decade. He currently hosts a local talk show “Daniel Hurt Presents”, produced by Paducah2, which features live musical performances, academic discussion, and community spotlights.