UNCW Executive Chef Wins “Mystery Basket” Cooking Challenge

Monday, July 29, 2019

UNCW Executive Chef Ryan Andress’ four-course meal impressed a panel of judges with his use of 16 “mystery basket” ingredients to take first place and a gold medal in an Aramark-sponsored competition in Austin, Texas.

Aramark organized the ACE (Aramark Culinary Excellence) Competition for chefs at the universities where it operates dining facilities, including UNCW. Andress previously won the Southern regional competition, earning the right to cook against the winners of the other five regional contests in Austin.

The setup was reminiscent of “Chopped,” the cooking show that presents challengers with a basket of ingredients that must be used to create different courses in a set amount of time. The chefs had half an hour to plan and another three-and-a-half hours to prepare four savory courses: appetizer, soup, salad and entrée. 

Andress and his fellow chefs were assigned to cook with Texas redfish, gulf shrimp, Tasso ham, beef cheeks, quail eggs, peaches, shiitake mushrooms, grape tomatoes, grapefruit, chayote squash, red leaf lettuce, ruby Swiss chard, feta cheese, dates, pecans and farro. 

They knew ahead of time that they would have five proteins, including two seafoods. “And I decided if I got an ingredient I wasn’t familiar with, I could throw it in the soup,” Andress said. 

He followed a Southern theme to represent his region. In the end, his creations – including the main course, chicken-fried redfish with Tasso ham gravy, sautéed Swiss chard and pickled chayote slaw ­­– won over the judges. 

Andress isn’t finished competing. In November, he and the second- and third-place chefs (from Boston University and Kent State University, respectively) will team up for another competition in Philadelphia, pitting the higher education group against chefs from Aramark’s other business units, including stadiums, healthcare and government entities. 

-- Tricia Vance