UNT Chef Sarah Kettelhut earns silver medal at NACUFS National Culinary Challenge

temp-post-imageIt was her first time competing at the National Association of College & University Food Services (NACUFS) National Culinary Challenge. And if University of North Texas (UNT) Chef/General Manager Sarah Kettelhut has it her way, it definitely won’t be her last.


Kettelhut, along with five other regional culinary competition winners, squared off at the NACUFS National Culinary Challenge that was held on July 11 as part of the groups’ national conference in Providence, Rhode Island. Her original dish, the Ocean Wave, comprised of Rhode Island clams in bacon cream, sautéed squid and crispy gremolata oysters with potato ribbons and campus-grown Swiss chard sauté, earned her a silver medal.

Chefs were tasked with preparing a creative entrée featuring the mandatory combination of Littleneck clams, whole squid, and oysters. In addition, the competitors were judged on two classic knife skills. Contestants received final scores based on the taste of the finished product, the demonstration of cooking skills and culinary techniques, as well as the practice of organizational skills, including sanitation principles.

Kettelhut earned her spot at nationals thanks to her first-place finish at the NACUFS Southern Regional Culinary Competition that took place on March 8 in Denton. She was the lone female competitor to advance to nationals from the six-region field.

“I was proud to the be the only woman competing at nationals,” Kettelhut said. “In a kitchen culture where it seems like women must work twice as hard to sometimes only get half the recognition, I was happy to earn a seat at the table.”

Although her time at the conference was brief, Kettelhut said she enjoyed the experience.

“Competing at nationals was a blast,” said Kettelhut. “I had fun, met great chefs, and learned so much. I would say the experience that comes from competing is extremely positive and rewarding. I don't believe any chef that says it isn't also stressful and complicated at times. I put a lot of my heart on the plate when I cook and sometimes my ego as a chef doesn't sway if people don't see my vision.”

The National Culinary Challenge marked just her third time competing in an event sanctioned by the American Culinary Federation (ACF). She now has three silver medals to show for her efforts with plans to continue competing. Her eyes are clearly set on securing gold.

“I love the rush of competing and the sense of urgency and precision one must have in order to compete,” said Kettelhut. “The adrenaline during that one hour is reminiscent of my old restaurant line cook days. You put your head down, keep your hands moving and stay focused through controlled chaos. Competing takes hard work, dedication, and taking the risk to put yourself in front of your peers with no mercy. These are the things chefs are made of and I am ecstatic to be a part of this industry.”

“I now have a collection of three silver ACF medals,” she added. “And I would love to bring home a gold medal to UNT next year.”

Until then, students, faculty, and staff on campus, as well as the Denton community, can enjoy her award-winning cooking at Champs Cafeteria near Victory Hall and Apogee Stadium when the fall semester begins in late August.

About UNT Dining Services
UNT Dining is the largest self-supported food service department in North Texas. With our 22 retail food shops, five cafeterias, a full-service restaurant, and a catering department, we serve nearly five million meals annually. Our food service program is award-winning and has been recognized nationally by organizations like Food Service Director Magazine, Physician’s Council for Responsible Medicine, and PETA. We are also the recipient of the prestigious Loyal E. Horton Award from the National Association of College and University Food Services. In 2011, Mean Greens Café opened as the first all-vegan university dining hall in the country. For more information, visit http://www.dining.unt.edu/.