Concord-based S&D Coffee and Tea (S&D) is hosting its highly competitive Culinary Challenge at Johnson & Wales University (JWU) Charlotte campus on March 15. For the sixth annual competition, culinary students are paying homage to the Tar Heel and Palmetto states’ culinary roots. After a timed round, they will present their best Carolinas-inspired creation to an esteemed panel of judges who will taste the dishes and decide the winner of the challenge.
Students were invited to submit original recipes using S&D coffee and tea extracts, with 20 submissions making it through the first round of judging. A judging panel of local culinary superstars participated in a taste test to narrow the pool down to the top 10.
“Every year, we are blown away by these young chefs and their unique and artistic approach to incorporating our products into award-worthy culinary creations,” says John Buckner, vice president of marketing at S&D. “From the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Outer Banks and Lowcountry, the Carolinas have a lot of variety in its culinary cookbook and we’re excited to see how the students interpret the challenge and share what Carolinas Cookin’ means to them.”
The top 10 finalists vying for the $5,000 grand prize, and bragging rights, are as follows (name, class, hometown, original recipe name):
- Taylor Hughes, sophomore from Waxhaw, North Carolina, and Chance McWhorter, junior from Rolla, Missouri, I’ll Take My Coffee Black … In a Chocolate Raspberry Torte Cake (chocolate coffee cake with a raspberry reduction and silky chocolate-rum ganache)
- Brittany Plante, junior from Attleboro, Massachusetts, Touch of the Y’all Sea (coffee-rubbed tuna steaks with collard greens and sweet potato fritters)
- Joy Turner, senior from Heath Springs, South Carolina, Low Country Jamm’in (refined take on the Southern stable shrimp and grits)
- Brandon Staton, sophomore from Virginia Beach, Virginia, Coffee in a Coop (fried chicken in biscuits with a red-eye ham jam)
- Ashley Cutrona, freshman from Canfield, Ohio, Not Your Mamma’s Biscuit (coffee and cinnamon biscuit with sweet potato ice cream)
- Willard Baker, senior from Suffolk, Virginia, and Lamont Watson, sophomore from Cincinnati, Ohio, Mini Coffamel Cheesecake (mini cheesecakes with whipped cream toppings and coffee syrup)
- Olivia Pedroff, sophomore from Saint Petersburg, Florida, and Maria Meacher, sophomore from Chesapeake, Virginia, Southern Shrimp n’ Grits (shrimp and grits with chorizo-coffee gravy)
- Tracy-Ann Mitchell, senior from Portmore, Jamaica, Southern Belle (baked stuffed apples with sweet potato ice cream, coffee praline and a ginger caramel sauce)
- Owen Beatty, junior from Oxnard, California, S&Delicious BBQ Sandwich (smoked and brined pork belly with Carolina cherry BBQ sauce and coleslaw dressing)
- Chainey Kuykendall, junior from Mount Airy, North Carolina, Cheerful Blend of Carolina (coffee-marinated beef ribs with sweet potato and congee mixture)
The finalists have been paired with some of Charlotte’s most notable chefs who will mentor and help them polish their culinary and presenting skills in preparation for the Culinary Challenge’s live culinary event on March 15, held in Hance Auditorium at Johnson & Wales’ main campus, 801 W. Trade Street in Uptown. Chef mentors include Clark Barlowe, owner of Heirloom; Jon Fortes, owner of Flipside Café; Cody Suddreth, executive chef at The King’s Kitchen; Luca Annunziata, owner of Passion8; and Blair Cannon, sous chef at Charlotte Country Club and the winner of the first S&D Culinary Challenge in 2012. Along with Chef Cannon, Chefs Barlowe and Fortes are JWU graduates.
“Seeing the culinary world through a different set of eyes, as is often the case in a mentor relationship, forces me to rethink ideas I often take for granted,” says chef mentor Barlowe. “I am humbled by the abilities and determination of the cooks I am working with in the S&D Culinary Challenge. Through their questions and our combined knowledge, we can produce some great dishes.”
The top student chef chosen that evening will receive a $5,000 grand prize and the winner’s chef mentor will receive a $5,000 donation to benefit the mentor’s charity of choice. Seven other students will also receive cash prizes.
“Johnson & Wales is continuously grateful for this on-going partnership with S&D and all it brings to our students, staff and institution,” says Tarun Malik, vice president at JWU. “It’s through unique opportunities like this that we’re able to offer the real-life culinary experiences students need to be competitive and successful in the foodservice industry.”
At the March 15 finale, an all-star panel of judges, including Michael LaDuke, corporate executive chef at The Capital Grille; Eric Nakata, vice president of culinary and innovations at S&D Coffee and Tea; and Brian Foye, president of Seasons 52, and an auditorium filled with student colleagues will watch the finalists prepare their dishes and make formal presentations, much like reality TV cooking competitions so popular today. WCCB’s resident funny man Jon Wilson, host of “Wilson’s World,” will emcee the event.