News Release: Finalists Chosen For 5th Annual S&D Culinary Challenge

Johnson & Wales University Charlotte students to compete for cash prizes, top honors

CHARLOTTE, N.C., February 16, 2015 – Concord-based S&D Coffee and Tea (S&D), the nation’s largest custom coffee roaster for the foodservice industry, is hosting its highly competitive annual Culinary Challenge at Johnson & Wales University (JWU). For the fifth year, culinary students enrolled at school’s Charlotte campus are putting their skills and creativity to the test in hopes of winning the competition, which culminates with a live culinary finale Feb. 24.

Students were invited to submit original recipes using S&D coffee and tea extracts, with twenty submissions making it through the first round of judging. An esteemed panel of judges participated in a semifinals taste test Jan. 30, and narrowed the pool down to the top ten.

“With every competition we continue to be impressed by the talent of these young chefs and their unique and creative approaches to incorporating our products into sophisticated dishes,” said John Buckner, vice president of marketing at S&D. “It’s an honor to continue our partnership with Johnson & Wales University and host this competition for the fifth year. Investing in our industry’s future is necessary and something we take much pride in.”

The top ten finalists vying for the $5,000 grand prize, and bragging rights, are as follows (name, class, hometown, original recipe name):

  1. Benjamin Wood, junior, West Chester, Pa., Tea Marinated Bulgogi with Lemongrass Tea-Infused Dashi Rice
  2. Tracy-Ann Mitchell, sophomore, Portmore, Jamaica, Meat-luffin (meatloaf muffins with mashed potato topping and coffee and tea flavored vegetables)
  3. Mikquell Nell, sophomore, Baltimore, Md., Chai Tea Waffle with Lemongrass Apple Butter and Chai Spiced Whipped Cream
  4. Brandon Staton, freshman, Virginia Beach, Va., Belly Full of Coffee (brined pork belly with coffee sauce served on hash)
  5. Courtney Nelson, sophomore, Concord, N.C., and Emily Sickelbaugh, junior, High Point, N.C., Crack of Dawn (duo of crepes filled with tea and coffee cream)
  6. Joy Turner, junior, Lancaster, S.C., Coffee’s Aggressive Side (bacon-wrapped chicken livers with coffee gastrique)
  7. Wesley Horton, senior, Siler City, N.C., Coffee Cheesecake Roll-up
  8. Shantal Miller, senior, West Bay, Cayman Islands, Coffee Toffee (coffee date cake with toffee sauce and banana flambé)
  9. Gillian Howard, freshman, Memphis, Tenn., Tennessee Date Night (coffee infused date cake with tea and lemon ice cream)
  10. Kentrell French, freshman, Sanford, N.C., Butterscotch Espresso Bombe (butterscotch and coffee gelato with cream bourbon butterscotch sauce)


Semifinalist judge chef Jon Fortes, owner of Flipside Café and fellow JWU alum, understands the pressure of competing in a culinary competition and was truly impressed by the work of the student chefs.

“Some of these chefs are going to be leaders in the industry one day,” said Fortes. “I love seeing the energy they have … food does that to you. The challenge that S&D presented was taken head on by these emerging chefs.”

The finalists get the opportunity to be mentored by another semifinal judge and local chef/restaurateur Jim Noble, founder of Jim Noble Restaurants, LLC, The King’s Kitchen and Rooster’s Wood-Fired Kitchen. They will then go on to compete at the Culinary Challenge’s live event on Feb. 24, held in Hance Auditorium at Johnson & Wales’ main campus, 801 W. Trade Street in Uptown. In addition to the $5,000 grand prize, all finalists will walk away with cash prizes.

“Johnson & Wales is grateful for everything S&D has done on behalf of our university and for helping us raise the culinary profile in Charlotte since we established this campus a decade ago,” said Tarun Malik, interim president at JWU. “It’s unique opportunities like the Culinary Challenge that truly engage our students and give them the hands-on experience they need to be competitive and successful in the foodservice industry.”

An all-star panel of judges 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. Judges include the following: local celebrity chef and JWU graduate Clark Barlowe, owner of Heirloom; Michael LaDuke, corporate executive chef at The Capital Grille; Jessica Foust, manager of nutrition & culinary at McDonald’s USA, LLC; JWU graduate Allison Oesterle, formally with Zaxby’s Franchising; and chef Eric Nakata, VP of culinary & innovation at S&D Coffee and Tea. WCCB’s resident funny man Jon Wilson, host of “Wilson’s World,” will emcee the event. For more information on the competition and to view photos of the finalists and their creations, please visit