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U chef apprentice takes first place in national culinary challenge, winning dish to be featured at Crimson View restaurant in the Union.

By Melody Anderson, marketing manager for Dining Services, and Annalisa Purser, University of Utah communications specialist

University of Utah Chef Apprentice Cassie Kelsch recently won first place and a $500 prize in a national culinary competition hosted by the National Association of College and University Food Services, NACUFS. She is now managing the kitchen in the Crimson View restaurant on the fourth floor in the Union building, where her winning dish will be featured as a special this Friday, Sept. 18.

Chef 2The NACUFS Culinary Challenge recognizes outstanding food preparation and presentation skills in collegiate dining services. The winners of each of the association’s regional culinary contests squared off at a national conference in Indianapolis this summer before a live audience of college and university foodservice managers and industry supplies.

The six contestants included Kelsch; Eric Cartwright, an executive chef from the University of Missouri; Juan Evangelista, a sous chef from Rice University who has been cooking for about 25 years; William Rogers, a catering executive chef from the University of Maryland; Vincent Gustavson, a second cook from Yale University who has provided gourmet meals to Barbara Streisand, The Who and Carlos Santana; and David Teal, a chef from the University of Southern California.

The contestants had just 60 minutes to prepare four portions of an original hot entrée featuring the mandatory protein: bison. Participants were judged on their menu design, portion sizes, food safety, cooking technique, presentation and taste.

“I was terrified!” Kelsch said of the competition. “I did not think I had a chance next to my seasoned competitors. I told myself not to worry about them and to focus on what I what I could control. Once I was in my zone, it was easier to stay calm and focused.”

Kelsch’ s menu included pan-seared bison with bacon bleu cheese roulade, mushroom bison braise encased in a Yukon gold potato with cauliflower silk demi-glaze, huckleberry gastrique and seasoned vegetables.

“When I found out what the protein was, I played with different possible combinations and then tested the recipes,” Kelsch said. “The regional competition was in Montana so I wanted to incorporate something from the region, which is why I used huckleberries. It was basically trial and error, and I had a lot of university dining staff assist as taste testers for my recipes.”

Kelsch graduated from Manila High School, where she enrolled in the ProStart program through the Utah Restaurant Association. ProStart is a nationwide organization that provides hands-on foodservice experience to high school students interested in pursuing a career in the hospitality industry. She was in the program for three years and was captain for the last two. Under her leadership, the school’s ProStart culinary team went to state twice.

As head chef for Crimson View, Kelsch is responsible for ensuring there is enough product for the day, that safety protocols are in place and for keeping quality consistent.

“It is really important to me that my guests are satisfied and that our food delivery is fast,” she said.

To help meet these goals, Crimson View restaurant will soon have a small buffet for guests who do not have time to wait for their food to be prepared.

“I am so proud of Cassie’s accomplishments,” said U Executive Chef Peter Hodgson who mentored Kelsch through the competition. “In preparing for the competition, I wanted Cassie to learn that it is not what you want to achieve, but what you are willing to give up to achieve it. She sacrificed a lot of time to perfect her dish, and it paid off. This dedication is apparent in how she runs the Crimson View restaurant as well.”

Kelsch has enjoyed training with corporate and executive chefs at the University of Utah and plans to begin culinary school at Utah Valley University in 2016. She aspires to become an executive chef of her own restaurant one day.

Get 10 percent off your meal at Crimson View through the end of September when you show your UCard.

*Not valid with transfer meals, dining dollars or any other coupons.