Penn State Harrisburg chef wins regional culinary challenge
Penn State Harrisburg managing chef Athan Spanos won an American Culinary Foundation (ACF) gold medal for his signature dish at the National Association of College and University Food Services (NACUFS) Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference Culinary Challenge, held March 15 in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Spanos represented Penn State in the competition against chefs from other colleges and universities in the Mid-Atlantic region. He will move on to represent the region and Penn State at the NACUFS National Conference Culinary Challenge, taking place July 19-22, in Baltimore, Maryland, against the winners of four other regions to see who is best in the nation.
The annual NACUFS Culinary Challenge, created in 2001 and sanctioned by the ACF, recognizes the vast collection of culinary expertise in collegiate foodservice. Each year, a protein is selected that competitors must use to create an original recipe to form a nutritionally balanced plate. Competitors’ creations are judged on a 100-point scale to rate organization, cooking skills, culinary technique, and taste.
The mandatory protein for this year’s competition was three types of pork: pork tenderloin, ground pork, and slab smoked bacon. Spanos’ winning dish consisted of sous vide shichimi togarashi pork loin with kimchi pork cabbage roll, tonkotsu foam, sesame noodles, pickled persimmons, and umami mushrooms. He previously won the National Culinary Championship in 2019 but was surprised and excited to move on in 2023.
“It was a hard competition — very, very hard,” Spanos said. “I definitely feel like my dish informs what I’m going to cook for the students now at Penn State. I’m going to make some adjustments to the recipe for the national competition, but I think this whole conference really enlightened me. It gave me a boost of energy and a little bit of confidence to go further.”