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Mellow Mushroom cook’s creation wins national contest
Chicken salad appetizer among ‘Home Grown Picks’
Kelly and Charles Wilson, owners of the Mellow Mushroom at The Collection on Peachtree Parkway, look over the different Home Grown Picks contest-winning menu items. The “Slow Ridin’ Chicken Salad” appetizer was created by Cole Smith, a cook at their restaurant. - photo by Crystal Ledford

SOUTH FORSYTH — A Cumming restaurant worker’s dish is being served up all across the country after he won a recent contest.

Cole Smith, a 2008 graduate of North Forsyth High School, entered his “Slow Ridin’ Chicken Salad” in a national competition held by his employer, Mellow Mushroom, last month.

The Home Grown Picks contest was open to all Mellow Mushroom employees across the nation and invited them to create their own unique items in the categories of pizza, salad, calzone, hoagie and cocktail.

“[Our employees] are always back here in the kitchen making great food, off menu,” said Kelly Wilson, who along with husband, Charles, owns the Mellow Mushroom at The Collection, where Smith works.

“So [Mellow Mushroom] figured the employees were the best judges of the types of items we should try on the menu.”

Wilson said nearly 85 recipes from employees around the country were submitted in the contest.

About 12 of those recipe creators were selected to travel to Atlanta, where the restaurant chain is headquartered, to cook their dishes for a panel of judges that included professional chefs and food writers.

In the end, Smith, who has worked for the restaurant chain for nearly five years, took home the top prize in the salad category.

Smith said the chicken salad recipe is something that he often makes as his own meal while working.

“I love chicken salad, so I make it a lot for my lunch,” he said Tuesday while whipping up the dish in the south Forsyth restaurant’s kitchen.

While a traditional favorite, Smith’s version includes several ingredients that give the chicken salad “a special kick,” he said.

“It’s grilled chicken, of course, celery, chopped candied pecans that we make in-store with a simple syrup, apples and jalapenos,” he said. “It’s not too hot because you have everything else that balances it out.”

Added Kelly Wilson: “It has a nice sweet heat.”

As a Home Grown Picks winner, Smith’s recipe is available at all restaurant locations as an appetizer through the end of this month.  However, the Wilsons said they probably will make it a permanent addition to the local menu.

“It’s been extremely popular for the past couple weeks since we’ve had the Home Grown Picks menu,” Charles Wilson said. “It’s been one of our best sellers. One Sunday, we even almost ran out of chicken because we were selling so much of this dish.”  

Other options on the Home Grown Picks menu include Suwanee resident Ben Power’s “Thaidal Wave Hoagie,” which was named the overall winner in the contest, and the “Quirky Turkey Club Pie,” a pizza creation with turkey, bacon and apples by Virginia resident Victor Alavarenga.

The “Chicken Cordon Bleu Calzone,” created by Glen Allen Davis of Ohio, was named best calzone, while three unique cocktails also staked a spot on the special menu.

As for Smith, who besides bragging rights took home $250, said he was most excited about having one of his dishes offered around the country.

“My dad lives in Texas, so it’s really cool that he can go into a Mellow Mushroom out there and see my dish with my picture on the menu,” he said.