Twice as Nice: Chainey Kuykendall wins back-to-back S&D Culinary Challenges

Once might just be a lucky break, but winning the same competition two years running indicates a real talent.

Johnson & Wales Charlotte student chef Chainey Kuykendall was named the grand prize winner of the 2017 S&D Culinary Challenge ― the same honor she took home last year.

Although the results were the same, many other aspects of the competition were different.

This year’s theme, “Food Truck Frenzy,” challenged the students to draw inspiration from the unique, innovative menus of this growing foodservice segment to earn a spot in the competition.

Similarly to last year, the 10 hand-selected students or student duos who pass the semifinals round were paired with a mentor to help them prepare to compete at the Culinary Challenge’s live culinary event.

But in a change from last year that was appropriate for the theme, this year’s mentors were Charlotte-area food truck owners. Chainey was paired with Aaron Rivera, owner of The Chrome Toaster food truck. The other food truck owners that served as mentors were:

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

These talented food truck owners brought enthusiasm and expertise, as well as insight into the entrepreneurial side of the foodservice industry, to their work with the chef finalists.

This year’s judges also brought a new perspective to the competition. From an editor from a leading industry publication to representatives from well-known entities in the QSR and fast casual restaurant world, JWU students benefits from the valuable insights from these culinary influencers:

  • Brittany Dubin, culinary manager, Krispy Kreme Doughnut Corporation
  • Will Eudy, corporate executive chef, McAlister’s Deli
  • Eric Nakata, VP of culinary & innovation, S&D Coffee & Tea
  • Grant Springer, senior director of R&D, Bojangles’ Restaurants, Inc.
  • Bret Thorn, senior food & beverage editor, Nation’s Restaurant News

Having been through the submission process twice before ― she also made the top 20 in the 2015 competition ― Chainey took this opportunity for a new approach to the competition and recipe development.

Being a senior and her last chance to participate in this competition, she wanted to create something fun and approachable. Taking influence from her love of Japanese cooking and inspiration from documentaries she watched recently, Chainey came up with a winner: “Coffee ScenTEAd Abura Soba.”

This oil-based ramen dish featured unique toppings that used the S&D ingredients, including tea-brined chicken and incorporating tea and coffee elements into the furikake, a dry Japanese seasoning typically found on top of cooked rice, vegetables and fish.

The dish was designed to be interactive, remarked Chainey, with the sauce placed on the bottom so that the diner has to stir it in with the topping to mix the elements together and create a well-rounded, tasty bite.

Once the dish was perfected, next came the preparation for the presentation. Although she was still nervous about presenting, her practice paid off once she was on stage in front of the judges, guests, fellow JWU students, and her biggest fans, her parents.

As the grand prize winner Chainey was rewarded with $5,000, and as her chef mentor, Aaron Rivera also received $5,000 for the charity of his choice: The National MS Society.

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