Chef Steve brings home silver medal for Residential Dining Services

CSU Residential Dining Services Production Chef Steve Kelley cooking at 2016 NACUFS competition.

Imagine you have 60 minutes to prepare four portions of an original, gourmet, hot entrée. To add to the challenge, you must use mandatory ingredients including red rice, edamame, black kale, and an optional protein. No advance preparation or cooking is allowed, and you must work unassisted using only two induction burners. Three American Culinary Federation judges are scrutinizing every step you take with special attention to technique, poise, organization, sanitation, presentation, and, of course, taste.

Sounds like a particularly daunting episode from the Food Network, but the professionals who are actually competing are all university chefs. And it’s game on for CSU Residential Dining Services Production Chef Steve Kelley.

Tuna-dish-SQUAREKelley rose to the occasion, garnering a silver medal, as he competed in the annual collegiate Culinary Challenge, sponsored by the National Association of College & University Food Services (NACUFS) at the regional conference in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. His prize-winning dish was black tea-encrusted tuna with red rice stir-fry and kale caviar with edamame cream sauce.

“Although we all knew the ingredients and had two months to prepare and practice timing, it was still nerve-wracking,” says Kelley, who involved his staff and colleagues in observing and taste-testing his recipe until he felt it was ready.

Yet despite the prep time, it all came down to skill and composure to win a medal. “The most challenging part of the whole process is calming your nerves knowing that the judges are watching your every move. The whole process has to take exactly 60 minutes, plus 10 minutes for plating. Finishing early or late results in penalties.”

Colorado native, culinary school graduate

Kelley has worked at CSU for 10 years at Corbett and Parmelee dining centers. He is a Colorado native who honed his culinary talents at Johnson & Wales University in Denver, developing a passion for sautéing and roasting. His inspiration for this award-winning recipe came from his love of tuna. “I thought it would be nice to have a delicate protein that would stand out with the other ingredients.”

His wife, Tina, who also works at CSU as a dining manager at Allison Hall, watched him develop his dish over time and observed during the entire competition. “All of Steve’s hard work preparing paid off in a big way: His hands were steady, his knife skills were on point, and his movements were backed with confidence.” She noted that as soon as the clock started, nerves went out the door and Steve immersed himself in the thrill of the competition and executed his dish with grace.

CSU has done well time and again in this competition. Within the last four years, CSU chefs garnered one first- and two second-place finishes. “It exemplifies the culinary talent we have in our facilities, and shows that CSU values culinary development in our staff,” according to CSU’s Assistant Director of Support and Culinary Operations Peter Testory. Winning a medal at any level in this competition is not easy and shows a highly elevated skill level. “Steve earned it. He put in the work, practice, and dedication. He personifies CSU Dining Services perfectly.”