Cooking with culture: Whitworth presents 2nd annual Top Chef cooking competition

by Jordan Coleman | Staff Writer

Whitworth is hosting its second annual Top Chef competition among students today, April 9 at 4:30 p.m. in the dining hall. This year, nine participants and their team members will each cook one dish. The recipes originate from eight countries: Nepal, France, Hong Kong, Hawaii, Mongolia, Iran, Mexico and Nigeria.

“The event was created to showcase food from different cultures, to provide awareness of cultures, and to create a more inclusive community,” said Shawn Washington, director of student diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Throughout the event,  attendants of the competition judge the dishes and vote for their favorite using ballots. Along with the people’s vote, there is also the vote of the official judges comprised of chefs. The four official judges include Chef Chad White who works for Bravo Network’s Top Chef competition, and owns Zona Blanca, Audrey Alfaro who is a food blogger and works for the Food Network’s Halloween Bake Off, Sergio De Leon who works for DeLeon Foods, and the Sodexo staff.

“The food is judged based off of presentation, knowledge, creativity, taste and skill,” Washington said.

The winners of both categories get their dishes recreated by Sodexo, and also receive a cash prize and a plaque.

Earlier in the semester, participants chose the dish they wanted to prepare and reported back to Washington and the Sodexo team.

All ingredients and materials for the dishes are provided by Sodexo, allowing the students to have everything they need to make their dish the way they desire chef Timothy Grayson said.

Sodexo has several responsibilities in putting on this event

“We provide the facilities, food, plan the event, help assist the judges and promote the event,” Grayson said.

Some of the Top Chef participants are excited to get cooking as they have a chance to show a side of themselves that is important to their cultures.

“I really enjoy cooking,” senior Asa Arhelger said. “The way I find a way to connect back home to Hawaii is to cook for people and cook dishes from home sharing my culture and heritage. For me it feels like I’m sharing my culture through what I make.”

Some participants also believe that Whitworth is not exposed to enough food diversity and should have the opportunity to experience food from cultures other than their own.

“Sodexo sometimes lacks diversity and when they attempt to cook Mexican food, it’s not how we eat it and I want to show how I make it in a way that appeals to people,” freshman Daniella Echeagaray said. “I hope for it to appeal to people because it is made the way it is supposed to, not like how Sodexo does it to appeal to people by changing it to something else.”

Some of the individuals running last year’s Top Chef competition viewed it as successful due to how popular it was.

Around 200 people attended the event last year,  Washington said. “It was packed.”

However, some also believe that there could be some improvements with the event. Due to how many people attended the competition, the food went fast and people were not able to try all of the student dishes.

“Make sure you cook a good amount of it because a lot of people come,” Grayson said. “Everyone wants a chance to try the food and people are going to show up and see what you made.”

Students with meal cards must use their swipes to attend the event. However, if a student does not have a meal plan, the event is free.

“If you don’t have swipes, don’t worry about it. Just say you’re with Top Chef, and you’ll get in,” Washington said.

Washington hopes to accomplish several goals through the Top Chef competition for the Pirate community.

Through the art of cooking, the event intends to build community by engaging and interacting in a cultural context, inform and highlight the value of human difference and understand the significance of cultural food dishes, Washington said.

“Getting to see the other cultures is mind-opening,” Echeagaray said. We have so many similar values but are so different.”

Last year’s Top Chef winner senior Adaeze Anamege had a positive experience during the competition, she said.

“It was cool to see how people were interested in other cultures which is what we want to see at Whitworth,” Anamege said.

Although she enjoyed her time as Top Chef’s winner, she will not be participating in the competition this year.

“I thought it would be good to give other people a chance who were more interested,” Anamege said. “As a senior, I want to give younger people a chance and just having people notice my plaque is a win for me. I would be happier seeing them doing it.”

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