ENFIELD, Conn. (WWLP) – Enfield’s own cook for Longhorn Steakhouse placed third overall out of 1,000 competitors from across the country in Longhorn Steakhouse’s fifth annual Steak Master series; winning over $2,500 over the course of the competition.

At a young age, Julian Penna’s passion for cooking grew. When he began working at LongHorn Steakhouse as a salad and fry station cook in 2014, he learned the grill from watching others at LongHorn when he first started. One day a team member went on leave, and he asked if he could take over. Since then, he has learned and worked his way up to Steak Master.

His nickname during the competition was “The Coach.” He earned the nickname while coaching and training the new cooks at LongHorn as he is a Certified Trainer there. He is also the head coach of his son’s football team in Springfield, and the nickname just stuck.

Penna adheres to the specifications of LongHorn, and make sure everything is done in his restaurant properly.  “Being the Steak Master sets me apart from anyone else I know and work with,” Penna said.  “I make every steak with the correct cut of meat, the right amount of seasoning, the right amount of finishing sauce. My secret ingredient to all my steaks I make for LongHorn is, the love I put into it!”

LongHorn Steakhouse’s Steak Master Series honors the brand’s commitment to quality while also recognizing the expertise of grill chefs across the company’s 540 locations nationwide.

To be qualified for the competition, Penna had to be a member of one of the LongHorn culinary teams. It was critical for him to show that he could grill steaks and that he understood LongHorn’s grilling criteria. After competing against his fellow cooks at his restaurant, he was deemed qualified. He competed against the winners of all the other local eateries in his region after winning in the Enfield restaurant.

He then advanced to the regionals, where he finished in second place, “I am very passionate about my job and made a great impression on the corporate judges in this round,” Penna said.

Upon placing in the competition as the second regional winner, Penna described how he felt, “It was truly a blessing and honor for me to be the regional winner. I get bragging rights in my region, but so does my restaurant who has supported me. We have never had someone make it this far in the competition.”

On his birthday, April 16th, his bosses in Enfield, as well as the Director of Operations, requested him to come in and execute a “catering order” on his special day. They awarded him a trophy and fed him and his family a joyful lunch after informing him and his family that he had won the Wild Card. When he made it to finals it was an very emotional day for him. Soon after losing both his brother in a motorcycle accident and grandmother on April 6th.

“It was a hard few months for me personally.”

Julian Penna

Penna told 22News his favorite part of being a finalist on May 26. “They put the seven finalists up at the Ritz Carlton in Orlando, Florida. I got to go to Top Golf with the Senior LongHorn Management and other competitors,” Penna said. “It was a memory to last a lifetime, but I would have to say grilling in front of the cameras at our corporate headquarters, and the level of intensity that came with having all of the eyes on me motivated me to be the best I can be.”

The competition was intense, but also fun at the same time for Penna. In front of the executives and culinary leaders of the Longhorn company, he showed off his skills. He says it was an amazing experience.

He was given particular menu items to prepare, all of which were required at different temperatures and with varied seasonings. Cooking them to the company’s specifications helped him advance in the rounds.

“The cooking gets more intense as you get the verbal questions in between cooking, as well as a formal written test on cooking standards.”

Julian Penna

He added, “it’s about doing it the right way from start to finish. Having a clean grill oiled to perfection, choosing the right steak for the right temperature to cook, using the right amount of seasoning, cooking it to the perfect temperature, and finishing it with our lemon butter sauce; that is what we call love.”

Penna explains what the experience will prepare him for, in the years to come. “I will continue to work for LongHorn. In the long term, I would like to be promoted to be a part of the management team. I do plan on entering the competition next year, keep an eye out!”