Steel Chef event engages students in culinary competition


ECU student Kim Opsal, right, and Monisha Mayo of J.H. Rose High School work together on team “Slim Jim” during ECU’s Steel Chef competition. (Photos by Jay Clark)


By Nicole Wood
For ECU News Services

Orange juice, mint leaves and five medium turnips: they might not sound like the best mix for a sweet concoction, but at an East Carolina University culinary competition, those ingredients were combined into mint turnip cupcakes that took first prize.

The ECU Steel Chef competition was held April 3 at the Golden Corral Culinary Center on campus as part of the College of Human Ecology’s celebration of Hospitality Week.

The annual event pits teams of students against one another in an event modeled after television’s popular Iron Chef competition. Four teams of students were given two secret ingredients and told to complete an entrée and appetizer (or dessert) in just under an hour. In a new twist this year, each team included a mystery chef, chosen from students in J.H. Rose High School’s culinary arts program.


Standing left to right, Maryssa Kuchta, Kim Opsal and Andrew Reynolds speak about their creations to Chef Paul Cyr, seated at left, and Warren Brothers. Brothers is owner of Warren Brothers Farm, which provided the secret ingredients.

Now in its fifth year, the Steel Chef competition is gaining momentum. ARAMARK Culinary Director Chef Paul Cyr has served as head judge each year. He said the students’ creativity and competency levels have risen each year, but the turnip mint cupcakes were the most creative dish he has seen in the history of the competition.The winning team, titled “Lettuce Turnip the Beet,” included ECU students Jennifer Freeman, Amanda West and Elizabeth Kroeger with mystery chef Nydeira Council.

The other teams were “Legendiary,” with Frank Walsh, Ashton Kidwell and William Scott Allen; “NutriYummy!” with Ayushi Shah, Michelle LaRue, Maria Bailey and Matt Haak; and “Slim Jim” with Maryssa Kuchta, Andrew Reynolds, Kimberly Opsal and Monisha Mayo.

ECU hospitality leadership student Elizabeth Copeland has been a part of the event for three years and was chosen to manage this year’s event. “The event went very smoothly especially given that we added the high school students to the mix,” Copeland said.

“I am very happy about how things turned out and quite proud of everyone because the food was delicious. Also, it was an amazing opportunity to work with ECU-TV to record the event for their channel. It really helps us to reach a broader audience,” she said.

J.H. Rose High School student Nydeira Council saw the competition as a way to challenge her problem-solving abilities. “Everything we learn in the food classes at school helped prepare me for the event, but being in the kitchen at Steel Chef really challenged me to think on my feet,” Council said.

Cyr said he looks forward to even more competitors next spring. “The more the merrier. Come on out and show your stuff; it’s a lot of fun,” he said.

“We are very proud of all of the student competitors – even if it was a nutrition team that ultimately won this hospitality event,” said Dr. Robert O’Halloran, chair of the School of Hospitality Leadership. “Next year we will reclaim the top spot!”

The event is sponsored by the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality, Eta Sigma Delta and the Pirate Planners.