Dayton-born chef needs local help to win $50,000 ‘Favorite Chef’ contest

Xenia native John Keefe is competing in a global online food competition to be named “World’s Favorite Chef.”

Keefe, who now lives in Cleveland, is pitted against chefs from around the world and is currently ranked number two in his group. There is a series of elimination rounds leading up to quarterfinals, semifinals and then final round of voting. Next week, the top chef in his group will advance to the quarterfinals.

Now through April 8, Keefe is campaigning to gain as many “Favorite Chef” votes as possible to achieve his culinary dreams and also give back to the community.

Keefe is competing for a $50,000 grand prize and a coveted two-page spread in Bon Appetit Magazine. People can vote once daily at, or purchase an additional “Hero Vote” by donating to Feeding America through the website.

On Keefe’s voting page, he writes “I want to honor my Grandma’s legacy. I am obsessed with food & the most important ingredient I incorporate into every dish I make is love!” The chef’s family history is steeped in the food industry.

“His Focke family (was) made famous for their meat-packing plant and secret sausage recipe and the Johnston clan worked at Fisher Foods, once the largest retail food distributor in Cleveland,” according to a release. “He aspires to make his Grandma proud, who prepared hors d’oeuvres and a huge spread every Sunday and on special occasions. His Grandma Keefe was a consummate cook and superb host.”

Keefe is currently working on launching a pilot program for Hippo Foods. He works from his home kitchen while he searches for a commercial space to launch his ideas — hopefully with the help of the $50,000 prize money.

While growing up in Xenia, Keefe’s first job was at a local farm harvesting greens and bean sprouts. He completed his undergraduate degree at John Carroll University, where he organized food drives with Harvest for Hunger, volunteered his time in soup kitchens and also travelled across the country and outside of the U.S. while building houses for Habitat for Humanity.

“I’ve always been super passionate about volunteerism, and I love to serve less-blessed communities in food pantries, soup kitchens and food drives,” Keefe said. “I can’t wait for the opportunity to explore these projects and give back to the community.”

If awarded the top prize, Keefe said he would use the funds to launch a food-subscription service, publish his first and long-dreamed-of cookbook, and most importantly, donate to organizations that continue his passion of feeding hungry people.

“To be honest with you, it would be kind of a career change for me,” Keefe said. “It’s always been something that I’ve loved and felt really dear to my heart. I just really haven’t had the right space or opportunity to share it with the public.”

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