Despite some doubt from the online community—the prize was real enough.
Sémone Hopkins, a Newport News resident with two culinary degrees, just won an online competition that awarded her $50,000 and an ad featured in Bon Apétit Magazine this coming August. Additionally, the Favorite Chef contest donated 25% of the earnings (a whopping $1,152,688.81!) to Feeding America—a foundation committed to battling hunger across the U.S.
Hopkins entered the contest in February on a whim. The winner was to be decided by online votes after each chef made a profile consisting of photos of their work, history, and signature dishes. Anyone could vote once a day for free but any additional votes were a dollar a pop. After two months of campaigning and support from her family in New Jersey, Hopkins was announced the winner and took the title of "America's Favorite Chef."
Plenty of people were skeptical of the competition, however, Sémone told The Virginian-Pilot: “During the competition, some people were real shady boots,” some even questioning if she was a real participant or a robot.
The skepticism began when food writer and host of the podcast A Hungry Society, Korsha Wilson, took to Twitter with some doubts. Indeed, the fact that voters were required to pay for some votes was cause for suspect in this day of online fraud and endless Spam. Bon Apétit made it very clear early on that they were not involved and some participants pulled out of the contest—urging their supporters to demand a refund. There were even some mysterious connections to Arizona Company Crow Vote, all of which is chronicled very well in an article by AZ Central.
Thankfully the contest turned out to be legit; Feeding America confirmed the donation, the ad to be taken out in the August issue of Bon Apétit was paid for by the company behind the contest, and Hopkins received her reward. The Pilot reported that the company had even contacted Hopkins to confirm the identity of people who had purchased blocks of votes.
Chef Sémone does plan to use the money as a start-up for her own business, but she very wisely wants to wait until she feels she is ready. For now, she'll continue to work her various jobs and continue to learn, “watching other people run businesses: the good things that they do or bad things that they do," she said. "I’m 27. I’m not in a rush to own anything.”
Have you tried any of Chef Sémone's food from her Instagram site? Do you plan on doing so now?!? Let us know in the comments.