Diamond Chef competition has grown along with Pulaski Tech

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Diamond Chef Arkansas
, the annual culinary competition benefiting the Pulaski Technical College Foundation, has grown in both size and influence over its past eight years along with Arkansas’ burgeoning hospitality industry.

In next Tuesday’s preliminary event (March 31), held at Pulaski Technical College’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute (CAHMI), six chefs will compete for the chance to battle 2014 Diamond Chef champion Chef Marc Guizol of The Capital Bar and Grill at the final event, slated for June 2 at the Statehouse Convention Center. Admission to the preliminary event is free and open to the public; tickets to the final are $200 and benefit the Pulaski Technical College Foundation.

Chefs competing in the preliminary event are Billy Ginocchio, culinary instructor at CAHMI; Payne Harding, executive chef at Cache; Elliot Jones, executive chef at YaYa’s Euro Bistro; Angela Nardi, executive chef at Superior Bath House Brewery & Distillery; Justin Patterson, executive chef at Southern Gourmasian; and Jason Knapp, executive chef at The Green Leaf Grill.

The preliminary event is a flurry of white coats, bright lights and gleaming knives, pitting chefs against each other in a style similar to the popular Food Network program Chopped. Through a series of heats, the winner of the preliminary event is chosen to compete in the final. Each team receives a basket of ingredients, which is held in top secrecy until the last moment, even from most of the event organizers.

Once the clock starts, the chef and his/her sous (assistant) chef has 40 minutes to prepare two identical plates using all items in the basket. One plate is presented to a heady panel of chef judges, this year made up of local culinary icons Paul Bash and Andre Poirot, as well as out-of-state representatives from the American Culinary Federation. The second plate is sold via silent auction to a hungry onlooker to benefit the college foundation.

Todd Gold, dean of Pulaski Tech’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute (CAHMI), said the event’s growth reflects upward industry trends.

“With everything that has gone on in the past few years, with cultural trends and recent growth in the hospitality and restaurant industry, it has absolutely had an impact on [Diamond Chef],” Gold said. “The change in the number of guests alone reflects the growing popularity of the culinary arts.”

With that growth came the need for larger venues, last year moving the preliminary competition from the former Peabody Hotel lobby to CAHMI’s spacious atrium. The final event is now held at the Statehouse Convention Center, with a crowd that has grown to nearly 800 fans of all things culinary.

Gold said that the event’s growth has also been reflected in the chefs who choose to compete in the event.

“We’ve seen a change in how interested chefs are to compete,” he said. “We used to have to recruit people; now we are having to be more selective.”

“This is not only a great fundraiser for the college, but also a way to get our students involved in a major event,” Gold said. “Diamond Chef has played a major role in helping us build our new facility, and it’s also a large stage of exposure for our program in helping us get to where we are today.”

Bret Graves of the Pulaski Technical College Foundation said Diamond Chef not only reflects area trends, but also fills a need left by funding shortages for the college.

“Pulaski Tech’s Diamond Chef Arkansas is a way to bring chefs together for a friendly competition and a way to bring people who love food together to celebrate the culinary arts,” Graves said.

“Many people are not aware that Pulaski Tech receives some of the lowest Arkansas government funding per student of Arkansas state colleges,” Graves continued. “This is why we rely on support from outside donors in order to fully fund the college’s needs. The proceeds of Pulaski Tech’s Diamond Chef Arkansas, and our other special events, helps provide scholarships for students, fund and develop programs, and furnish and equip buildings.”

Pulaski Tech’s CAHMI has over 400 students in degree programs focusing on culinary arts, baking and pastry, and hospitality management, as well as certificate programs in numerous areas including wine and spirits and tourism. 


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