Chatting with Culinary Challenge Mentor Aaron Rivera

With this year’s S&D Culinary Challenge theme ― Food Truck Frenzy ― who better to help the chef finalists prepare than chefs/owners who live in the food truck world every day?

Through connections in the Charlotte culinary scene and having hired several local food trucks for company events, S&D Coffee & Tea identified with the five food truck owners who would serve as mentors. This enthusiastic, passionate crew consisted of:

  • DaRel Daniels, Street Spice
  • George Leach III, OooWee BBQ
  • Aaron Rivera, The Chrome Toaster
  • Brian Stockholm, Papi Queso
  • Scott Tang, Yummi Banh Mi

Coming out on top was chef Aaron Rivera, whose team member Chainey Kuykendall took home the grand prize in this year’s competition.

Aaron Rivera pic

From starting working in a hotel restaurant at age 14 in his home state of Arizona, Aaron’s career has taken him from Las Vegas and Japan to the Carolinas.

He’s been in Charlotte for more than seven years and opened his food truck three and a half years ago after leaving a job.

I wanted to work for myself, so I converted school bus into a food truck ― it was silver and had a similar shape as a chrome toaster, which gave it the name, he said.

In 2015, he also opened Tapas 51, a restaurant in Fort Mill, which earned a best of food and dining award from Charlotte Magazine last year.

He’s had a lot of success as a chef and a business owner, but serving as a mentor was somewhat new to him.

People bring their own opinions to food, but my role wasn’t to change Chainey’s dish or style, he said. I just provided insight where I thought I could help.

One area where he did offer advice was with the egg that topped her abura soba dish.

“I encouraged her to sous vide the egg to ensure that it’s cooked correctly ― with the $5,000 on the line for her, that was very important,” he noted.

Chainey took his advice with the egg and created the judges’ winning dish.

Overall, Chainey’s confidence in her dish was what Aaron thought set her apart.

It can be easy to listen to others and not have the confidence to do what you want to do, and I was impressed that she has that confidence as a young chef, he commented.

As for the dish? “The flavors of the final dish were incredible – it was a dish that I would easily put on any of my menus.”

As Chainey’s chef mentor, Aaron received $5,000 for the charity of his choice: The National MS Society.

Chainey’s chef mentor, Aaron

Up next for Aaron is a new adventure in a new location: Colorado Springs, Colorado. There he is working on new restaurant concepts with a friend with hopes of opening three restaurants this year ― all chef-driven and inspired by the local cuisine.

Aaron will be missed in the Charlotte-area, but we wish him all the best in his new endeavors!

To learn more about the S&D Culinary Challenge, visit the S&D Facebook page or read our most recent announcements:

S&D Coffee & Tea Hosts 7th Annual Student Recipe Challenge

S&D Coffee & Tea Announces S&D Culinary Challenge Finalists

JWU Charlotte Student Chainey Kuykendall Wins Back-to-Back S&D Culinary Challenges