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May 14, 2024

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POINT LOOKOUT, MO — Sophia Durando, sophomore culinary arts and hospitality management major at College of the Ozarks, won the American Culinary Federation (ACF) Emerging Chef Cooking Competition. The competition took place at The Keeter Center, and it consisted of five young culinarians, including three sous chefs from area restaurants and two students from C of O, Garrick West and Sophia Durando.

The competition was mystery box style, and the participants didn’t know what ingredients they had to work with until the competition began. The contestants had 25 minutes to cook and five minutes to plate four tasting plates.

“The competition was challenging,” said Robert Stricklin, executive chef of The Keeter Center and one of the judges. “Pork belly normally takes hours to prepare because you want to cook it with a low temperature for a long period of time.”

Every contestant finished within the time restraints. In the end, C of O student Durando was announced the winner. Durando won a year’s membership in the ACF, a Mercier knife set, and a plaque naming her the Emerging Chef Champion. Her dish consisted of Thai curry-seared pork belly, on top of turmeric, butter-based sweet potato, and yellow onion. The dish was topped with a Brussels sprout and red pepper slaw and a Thai peanut-coconut sauce garnished with fried rice paper.

“I was excited to have this opportunity to utilize everything I’ve learned over the past two and a half years in the culinary program,” Durando said. “I was tense before the competition, but as soon as it started, I had so much fun and enjoyed every second! I’m pleased with how my dish tasted and how my plating came out. This experience was evident confirmation that the hard work and dedication I’ve put in over the last two years are moving me towards my goals in the culinary field.”

“It was a tough field, and Sophia performed very well under pressure,” said Chef Daniel Pliska, lead judge. “She has a great future ahead of her.”

ACF is now the largest professional chefs’ organization in North America. They are made up of more than 14,000 members belonging to more than 170 chapters in four regions across the U.S. Today, ACF is the leader in offering educational resources, training, apprenticeshipcompetitions and programmatic accreditation designed to enhance professional growth for all current and future chefs and pastry chefs. In addition, ACF operates the most comprehensive culinary certification program in the world.