USC puts chefs to the test in culinary competition

The winner will represent USC at a NACUFS regional conference.

Published in FSD C&U Spotlight

With the bonus of building morale and celebrating the department’s talents, 21 dining services personnel competed in the University of Southern California’s 2nd Annual Culinary Challenge, in December, to determine which unit chef would represent the university at the 2014 Pacific NACUFS conference.

“I think that the most important thing that [the competition] does for us is re-emphasize the culinary and hospitality realm that we operate in with residential,” says Kris Klinger, USC Hospitality director. “Having a competition like this and watching these chefs compete and display their talent and having the winner be a resident chef is a huge eye-opener for some folks and boosts morale across the board.”

This year’s challenge was separated into two competitions. For the first section, teams of culinary department associates, including station chefs, culinary specialists and food preparation helpers, created original entrées that incorporated cultivated mushrooms. The second part of the competition focused on the seven competing USC unit chefs. Each chef was required to prepare a signature dish highlighting Maine lobster as the primary ingredient. “The biggest payoff [of the competition] is the development and training [of our staff], and the secondary payoff is camaraderie and teamwork,” says Eric Ernest, USC Hospitality executive chef. “The unsung hero of it is that we get to showcase our skills to the rest of the department and to each other, all in the vein of culinary exploration.”

Five judges, including the Food Network’s Rahm Fama and Penny Davidi, used criteria closely tied to the NACUFS and ACF certification process to determine the top three winners from each competition, scoring dishes for creativity, menu compatibility, nutritional balance, flavor and texture. Also new this year was the People’s Choice Award, which judged the flavor and food acceptability aspects of the competition dishes.

Rahzah Latour and Courtney Beavers, both of USC Hospitality’s McKay's dining outlet, were the winners of the first portion of the competition with their Umami Crusted Flat Iron Steak, Dumpling Squash with Wild Mushroom Gnocchi served with a Port Wine Sauce. They took home trophies, knife kits and books.

Chef Rajeendra Wanniarachchige, unit chef at USC’s Café 84, took first prize in the second portion of the competition with his preparation of Garam Masala Maine Lobster with Lemon Grass, Asparagus and Coconut Milk. Rajeendra will represent USC Hospitality at the 2014 NACUFS Pacific Conference. “Being in residential dining … we provide almost 2,500 people with food every single day,” Rajeendra says. “It’s very challenging, but I did prepare myself with help from other chefs, associate directors and my managers. It was a team effort.”

The event was hosted near the Los Angeles campus at the Radisson at USC. In addition to the competition, other activities included a vegetable and fruit carving demonstration, a knife demonstration and an interactive mushroom tasting station. The audience included various campus departments, students, associate deans and campus partners. “We had a lot of fun,” Klinger says. “The last day of classes was [the next day], so it really worked out, so we had a lot of folks there and a lot of students.”

More From FoodService Director

Sponsored Content
vegetables with dip foodservice healthy menu

From Mrs. Dash Foodservice.

There was a time when healthy food meant counting calories, omitting carbs, giving up sugar and going fat-free—in other words, it was all about deprivation.

But not anymore. Today’s definition of healthy means an overall focus on nutrition and wellness that doesn’t mean giving up enjoyment. It’s all about balance: good fats, healthy carbs, better sweeteners, wholesome ingredients and satisfying flavor enhancements. It means food that customers can feel good about, at the same time that they’re enjoying the dining experience.

According to...

Industry News & Opinion

Aramark today announced a partnership with celebrity chef and TV personality Cat Cora that will put a new concept from the Top Chef star in Aramark’s North American business-and-industry accounts.

The new fast-casual concept, called Olilo by Cat Cora, promises a healthy, made-your-way menu, according to the global foodservice provider.

“By bringing together Chef Cora's award-winning brand and healthy cooking advocacy and Aramark's commitment to enriching and nourishing the lives of the thousands of consumers we serve every day, we have an opportunity to elevate the on-site...

Industry News & Opinion

Members of Congress and several advocacy groups gathered on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to highlight the potential loss of millions in state funding because of a Child Nutrition Reauthorization block grant introduced last month, and to call upon legislators to squash the bill.

The Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 houses a statute that would provide three unannounced pilot states with block grant funding. Participating states would be exempt from federal nutrition regulations and would no longer qualify for the 6-cent reimbursement per lunch garnered by certified...

Menu Development
blueberry pancakes

Breakfast is booming—and not just in the morning. The growing popularity of all-day breakfast helped fuel a 5.4% increase in McDonald’s first-quarter sales, management reported in April. And a survey by the NPD Group found one-third of “All Day Breakfast” buyers hadn’t visited the restaurant in the month prior to the extended breakfast hours.

While only 14% of operators surveyed for FSD’s 2016 FoodService Handbook said they expected breakfast sales to surge this year, jumping on the pancakes-and-bacon bandwagon looks increasingly profitable. With the erratic schedules of college...

FSD Resources