BYU hosts regional culinary competition

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Chef Joe Castellano represents BYU in this year's Regional Culinary Challenge, which hosted chefs from multiple states including Colorado and Minnesota. Chef Castellano, who works at the Cannon Center, created butter poached lobster with cognac cream sauce for this year's competition. (Photo by Samantha Williams.)
Chef Joe Castellano represents BYU in this year’s Regional Culinary Challenge, which hosted chefs from multiple states including Colorado and Minnesota. Castellano, who works at the Cannon Center, created butter poached lobster with cognac cream sauce for this year’s competition. (Photo by Samantha Williams)

BYU hosted an annual cook-off held by the American Culinary Federation for the first time in more than a decade. Talented chefs from the Midwest region competed against each other in a timed challenge from which the winner will be awarded a medal, trophy and the opportunity to compete at Nationals.

“You have a five-minute set-up; then you cook for an hour and plate for ten minutes,” said Chef Joe Castellano, who represented BYU at the prestigious event. “So really you have just over an hour to do the whole thing, and you make four plates all by yourself.”

Castellano, who has been cooking for about 30 years, said his passion for creating food came from his grandparents and his father. With dreams of becoming a chef, Castellano earned his culinary degree from UVU. Then he enrolled as a part-time student at BYU, where he currently attends and works as a chef at the Cannon Center.

To compete at the competition’s regional level, Castellano and his fellow competitors had to undergo a competitive application process.

Chef Joe Castellano prepared butter poached lobster with cognac cream sauce for this year's Regional Culinary Challenge which was held at BYU for the first time in over a decade. (Photo by Samantha Williams.)
Joe Castellano prepared butter poached lobster with cognac cream sauce for this year’s Regional Culinary Challenge, which was held at BYU for the first time in more than a decade. (Photo by Samantha Williams)

“We receive many applications, and then we determine who will compete from those,” said BYU executive chef and competition chair John McDonald. “We like to think about who will represent the region the best.”

As for the food itself, the chefs were all challenged to create dishes incorporating lobster.

“The lobster theme comes from the region that is going to host the nationals,” McDonald said. “This year, the nationals will be in Baltimore, Md., and they chose lobster to be prepared by every region across the country since it kind of represents them as a state.”

The dishes created by the chefs at this year’s competition did not disappoint.

“The plates were beautiful,” said competition judge Peter Sproul, Utah’s first and only chef to become a certified ACF culinary judge. “They did a beautiful job. Very impressive; very organized.”

Lead Judge Chef Walter Leible with Chefs Mark Spellman and Peter Sproul judge the plates made by contestant chefs at the Regional Culinary Challenge. The competition was held at BYU for the first time in over a decade and will determine which chef is eligible to compete at Nationals in Baltimore. (Photo by Samantha Williams.)
Lead Judge Chef Walter Leible with Chefs Mark Spellman and Peter Sproul judge the plates made by contestant chefs at the Regional Culinary Challenge. The competition was held at BYU for the first time in over a decade and will determine which chef is eligible to compete at Nationals in Baltimore. (Photo by Samantha Williams.)

Sproul was one of three judges at the competition, all of whom are highly experienced and awarded chefs themselves. They judged the plates based on multiple criteria including taste, organization in kitchen, sanitation, cooking technique and presentation, according to Sproul.

First-time competitor Castellano said he practiced for the challenge about 10 times before the big day to prepare for any potential mishaps.

“It’s a lot of stress, but it’s fun,” Castellano said. “You don’t realize it until you’re in it, and then the time just goes so fast. I want to do it again though.”

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