The 14th Annual Cardinal Cook-Off


A pumped crowd stood behind red velvet ropes, cheering on their favorite Stanford students during the 14th annual Cardinal Cook-off. The Iron Chef-style competition was held on the top floor of the Arrillaga Family Dining Commons. After working with a Stanford Dining mentor chef, four pairs of students donned white chef’s coats and hats and raced to cook a signature dish using this year’s featured ingredients, citrus and petrale sole.

“We are excited to give our student teams an opportunity to express their passion for the culinary arts and an experience they’ll never forget,” said Eric Montell, executive director of Residential & Dining Enterprises Stanford Dining. To involve more students and generate awareness about R&DE Stanford Dining, the judging panel was comprised of student judges for the first time as opposed to senior administrators, Montell added. The guest judges included Pau Giunart, Graduate Student Council co-chair; Reagan Vamoose, Stanford Dining nutrition intern/student athlete; Rudy Braich, Stanford Dining head dining ambassador; Sayuri Sekimitsu, Stanford Dining nutrition intern; and Andrew Beckman, Teaching Kitchen @ Stanford intern.

This year’s featured produce, citrus, is Stanford Dining’s January “Harvest of the Month” item and the various types of citrus were sourced from several local orchards. The protein, petrale sole, a sustainable west coast fish, was chosen in accordance with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch recommendations.

With 45 minutes of food preparation, the contestants' start times were staggered in 10-minute intervals.

 “This is a fun, festive event that brings together students from many halls—and students are the reason we’re here,” said Chef Nijo Joseph, assistant director of culinary excellence of Stanford Dining.

Over time, mentor chef Joe Guinto, executive chef of Gerhard Casper Dining, Branner Dining and athletic meals, has witnessed amazing dishes and limitless creativity from Stanford students, “including techniques used in Michelin starred-restaurants.” He gives no hint of this pressure during his pre-game talk. “Just have fun,” he told the students. “Enjoy what you’re doing.”

Team One’s Max Vilgalys ’17 took Chef Joe’s advice to heart. While making his dish, panko-encrusted sole, edible quinoa “sand,” and lemon-lime foam spooned into seashells—an homage to childhood trips to the Seattle seashore—Vilgalys posed for photos. He pantomimed with purple-gloved fingers a DIY-facial over steam rising from a boiling pot of water.

“Hi Mom!” his partner, Nora Tan ’18, mugged to a camera, which broadcast the action via live stream onto flat screen televisions in the dining hall and to excited viewers (hello parents!) around the country.

Did the pair seem relaxed? They should have been—they practiced preparing their dish six times before the competition. Two of those sessions were spent with their mentor Erica Holland-Toll, executive chef for Arrillaga Family Dining Commons and the Stanford Flavor Lab. “It was such an honor to work with Chef Erica,” said Vilgalys. “She’s so cool.”

As the judges looked at each team’s efforts, emcee Chef Lars Kronmark, a professor at the Culinary Institute of America narrated the students’ progress for the audience. The green-flecked nori (seaweed) tagliatelle made by Team Two, Marco Lorenzon ’20 and Nathan Kong ’20, stopped Chef Kronmark in his tracks. “Fresh pasta made right in the dining room? Wow!” he said. Equally impressive was Team Two’s sole pan seared to golden perfection, and creamy uni (sea urchin) pasta sauce. “The process has been wonderful,” said Lorenzon, who apprenticed last year at a bakery in Switzerland. He noted it was easy to bounce ideas off his mentor Chef Joe.  

Meanwhile Yvan Quinn ’18, who compared his cooking to wizardry, was busy at his station with Alec Arshavsky ’18. The duo scooped out softball-sized grapefruits and caramelized a huge skillet of onions. Mentor Peter Ochoa, executive chef of kosher dining and the university’s farm to table program, noted Team Three was energetic and took direction so well he was more than confident with their “solid product.”

“Um, chocolate, cinnamon—smells like we are in Oaxaca,” said Chef Kronmark as he visited Team Four. Sporting his lucky hamburger-print Vans sneakers, Jake Ocon ’19 and partner Angela Gu ‘19 whipped up mole fish tacos with mango salsa. And to wash down those tacos? Refreshing ginger lemonade spiked with blood orange. “They’re the only team to have a drink. That might give them the edge,” said Junelle Fronda, chef de cuisine of Governor’s Corner and Peanut Sensitive Dining.

The teams presented their dishes to the judges. “I felt like I was getting restaurant quality meals, one after another. The teams obviously put a lot of time and effort into their recipes, and it was a lot of fun watching them cook,” said Braich.

After deliberation, including sampling the meals, a winner was announced: Team Three’s flash-fried sole with citrus jewels and rosemary plucked from their co-op garden right on campus.

Quinn and Arshavsky were thrilled with their prizes, including a high quality chef’s knife, free Teaching Kitchen cooking classes and $100 Cardinal Dollars for each. But, the biggest accolade of all? Their winning Cardinal Cook-off dish will be served in campus dining halls soon.