UWG Chef Takes Top Prize

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Executive Chef Rodney Ridley at UWG won first place in the Aramark Higher Education ACE Competition held at Z-6. The Southern Regional Aramark Culinary Excellence Team awarded Ridley a gold medal in the Regional ACE Competition.

Ridley, a graduate of the Art Institute of Atlanta, competed against chefs from universities across the south. His winning menu of Shrimp and Vidalia Onion Wonton, Bourbon Chicken stuffed with pecan butter and a Cheese Brulée with vanilla strawberries dazzled the panel of judges.

Those judges included Dan Lewis, coordinator of business and finance, and Lisa Ledbetter, assistant vice president for University Communications and Marketing.

“I’ve never eaten so much wonderful food in my life!” said Ledbetter.  “I’m sure I gained five pounds during the event but it was well worth it.”

Lewis said he had the time of his life and gained a few pounds.

“It was fabulous,” said Lewis. “One of the chef’s served a tomato bisque for an appetizer and I don’t normally like tomato soup, but I would have bought five gallons of that bisque if it was available.

”And the desserts, wow! Let's put it this way, I was on the scale earlier that morning and when I weighed myself on return, I was four pounds heavier!  Did I have fun? Yes. Would I recommend it to anyone next year? No. I want to do it again.”

Seven chefs submitted a menu and had four hours to prepare a three-course meal in the kitchen at Z-6. The panel of judges sampled the fare prepared by the chefs, which included dishes presented by the chef from the University of Florida, home of the Gators.

Saltines and water were used to cleanse the palate. Lamb entrees, a bacon-wrapped shrimp appetizer and French crepes were just a few of the preparations given to the judges, who did a blind tasting. Flavor, creativity and appearance are some of the criteria used.

With this first place win, Ridley earned a final spot on the regional team, which will compete in the National Higher Education ACE Challenge in Chicago this summer. Ridley competed against 70 schools in the southeast to qualify for the contest in the Windy City.

“We’re tickled to death that our own chef won first place,” said John Lyons, director of the Aramark food services at UWG. “We’re very proud that we have someone of his caliber. The level we competed at was big, really big.”

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