Last week, my husband and I attended the “Aloha Kitchen Challenge” at Roy’s Restaurant in La Jolla, which felt a little bit like experiencing an Iron Chef event first hand (or an episode of Hell’s Kitchen where the head chef is a whole lot nicer!).
The “Aloha Kitchen Challenge” is actually a gourmet competition that Internationally-acclaimed Chef Roy Yamaguchi has been hosting at different Roy’s locations throughout the country (and more are in the works if you’d like to attend one of them!).
3 culinary students local to the area are partnered with top chefs from local restaurants, who act as their mentors for the event, then they compete for the chance to win a year-long internship with Roy’s expert chefs. The students were all from the Art Institute of San Diego: Grant Toraason, Athena Gilson and Bruce Ricketts – and they were paired with top chefs: Jason Knibb of NINE-TEN; Bernard Guillas of Marine Room; Brian Malarkey, of Oceanaire; and Garrett Mukogawa of Roy’s.
Guests of the event are treated to a fun – and highly creative – 5-course meal, along with champagne and wine pairings for each course, if desired. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th courses were created by the 3 students, and all of the dinner guests + some special local celebrity judges voted on their favorite dish at the end of the meal.
Here are the 3 contenders… how great is the presentation on each of these dishes?!
Ceviche of Scallop and Octopus
Melon Salad, Tempura Shiso Leaf “Taco”, Mango Vinaigrette
Pistachio Sanyo Crunch Tasmanian Steelhead
Red Quinoa Filled Squash Blossom, Heirloom Melon Nectar, Gooseberry Kalbi
Duo of Pork: Ginger Beer & Cider Braised Pork Belly, Smoked Pork Loin
Thai Bird Chili & Peach Relish, Ogo & Green Papaya Salad
I have to say that every single dish was fantastic, so it was a tough decision… but my personal favorite did end up winning! Drumroll, please… the Tasmanian Steelhead dish (course #2) – so congrats to Athena Gilson! I would definitely order this dish again if it makes it on the menu – and the presentation of it was so wonderfully creative:
Here’s Athena with her mentor, Chef Bernard Guillas and Chef Roy.
And a few more shots of the behind-the-scenes action:
Celebrity guest chef (and former San Diego Charger) Marcellus Wiley was more than happy to help serenade guests for the evening…
Chef Roy Yamaguchi actually sat down at the table and chatted with Sonny and I for a bit – and he was incredibly nice and had such a calm, content spirit to him. (I’m thinking that living in Hawaii must make one extra happy, right?) When asked about what the inspiration behind these event was, he said – quite matter of factly – that he simply wanted to inspire and encourage aspiring chefs, and that they really tried to make this a fun experience for the students, as opposed to a high-pressure situation. (Sorry – no Hell’s Kitchen-style drama here!)
“Teaching and mentoring aspiring chefs has always been a passion of mine,” said Chef Roy.
I also asked Roy if he had any tips for novice chefs at home… and he said the best thing is to just “keep it simple” and not stress out over the dish. And honestly, that’s just fine by me. When I want something exotic like Pistachio Sanyo Crunch Tasmanian Steelhead, I’m more than happy to go out and leave it to the professional chefs… or in this case, to the students!
Visit roysrestaurant.com to find a Roy’s location near you.
Photos by: Chaz Cruz