ELKHART, Ind. — The realization that he’d be going to the World Food Championships hit Kenneth Branch like a ton of bricks.

“I still can’t believe this is happening,” the Elkhart man mused.

At the River Falls Bacon Bash on Sept. 18 in River Falls, Wis., Branch reproduced his favorite dish, his Filet Mignon Wellington, using a filet mignon cut with cream cheese, Wisconsin cheddar cheese, green onions and spinach, wrapped in a puff pastry. The entry won third place and gave him his golden ticket to the World Invitational Steak Championships in Orange Beach, Ala., on Nov. 9, part of the World Food Championships event.

“I still don’t believe I was better than some of those chefs because some of them were really good,” Branch said.

You might remember Branch from the South Side Family Fun Fest Barbecue Cook-off on Sept. 4 in Elkhart, when he won the grand prize with his blackberry and molasses sauce covered ribs. The cook-off was the first time the father of two had ever competed and it was the first in the series of winning streaks that led him to the international contest.

“Everybody had been bugging me about getting a restaurant or food truck and I said, ‘You know what? You guys are having a food contest here in Elkhart. I’ll compete.'”

He couldn’t believe the reactions.

“I’m not not a chef. I’m an at-home cook,” Branch said.

So when people like the mayor and other competitors started asking what his sauce was made of, he was shocked.

The surprises didn’t stop there, though.

After winning the competition, Branch received an email from Judy Berg of the River Falls Chamber of Commerce, inviting him to compete in the River Falls Bacon Bash. He entered all four competitions: dessert, chili, sandwich and – the one that eventually nabbed him a ribbon – steak.

An engineer living in Goshen, Branch grew up in Detroit and got his first glimpse of Elkhart 14 years ago on a week-long visit with his friend’s family. Immediately, he knew he wanted to be here.

He got a job and then traveled back to Detroit to bring his dying grandmother to Elkhart and eventually went back, searching for his mother in the streets of Detroit. While there, Branch was shot and robbed by a former acquaintance. Once he was out of the hospital, Branch never looked back.

“I expected to grow up in Detroit and become a casualty or a statistic,” he said. “I didn’t expect all this.”

Now facing the potential for international notoriety, the reality of his situation is kicking in.

“It’s crazy, like a dream,” he said

Of the 100 chefs expected to compete in the World Food Championships, many have already achieved fame from their skills, appearing on television or working in well-known restaurants. Branch reminds himself that even if he places 10th, he’ll still walk away with $10,000.

More importantly, he’ll walk away having followed a lifelong dream.

“I just want the young men out there to know that if you put your mind to something and follow your dreams, nine times out 10, something good’s going to come out of it and you’ll reach that goal,” Branch said. “It’s just taking that first step forward.”

Source: The Elkhart Truth, http://bit.ly/2dJx68k

Information from: The Elkhart Truth, http://www.elkharttruth.com

This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by The Elkhart Truth.

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