Laura Strunk Wins National Culinary Challenge

Author: Lisa Wenzel


Laura Strunk, CEC, Chef of Catering by Design brought home gold and first place in the National Association of College and University Food Services (NACUFS) Culinary Challenge on July 13, 2012.  Chef Laura competed in front of a crowd of hundreds in Boston, MA against the winner of the five other regional competitions.  Laura reached the national competition by winning the Midwest Regional culinary competition in French Lick, Indiana on March 3, 2012, where she out shined eight of her Midwest peers finishing first and achieving a Gold Medal by American Culinary Federation (ACF) standards. 

Chef Laura’s preparation of Citrus Cured Sautéed Flounder with Vanilla Bean Beurner Blanc and Panko Fennel Crusted Fried Oyster and Citrus Pearls with Pan Caramelized Rutabaga and Carrots, Black Barley Pilaf and Zucchini Coulis achieved a gold medal according to the American Culinary Federations standards as well as surpassing the other strong competitors. 


This intense NACUFS Culinary Challenge is sanctioned by the ACF and is classified as a K-9 Fish Regional Taste/Customized Competition.

Each competitor had 60 minutes, with ten additional minutes for plating, to prepare four portions of an original hot entrée, featuring the mandatory ingredient of flounder, with side dishes and sauces to create a balanced plate. The entrée recipe demonstrated a nutritionally balanced meal.  Each meal was required to feature the ingredient flounder and demonstrate proper cleaning and cutting procedures.  Each contestant worked unassisted to prepare these difficult plates under strict time constraints.   

ACF-approved judges used a 40-point scale, as follows:

Organization: Total of 10 points

  • Sanitation/Work habits (HACCP guidelines will be followed): 0–5 points
  • Utilization of ingredients and use of allotted time: 0–5 points                                                                                         
  • 1.2 point deduction for each minute late

Cooking Skills and Culinary Technique: Total of 10 points

  • Creativity, skills, craftsmanship: 0–5 points
  • Serving and portion size: 0–5 points

Taste: Total of 20 points

  • Flavor and texture: 0–10 points
  • Ingredient compatibility and nutritional balance: 0–5 points
  • Presentation: 0–5 points

ACF medals were awarded, based on the following point totals:

  • ACF Gold medal (36–40 points)
  • ACF Silver medal (32–35.99 points)
  • ACF Bronze medal (28–31.99 points)

Chef Laura competed against the 2012 Culinary Challenge Contestants:
Manfred Werner Edler, Villanova University, Mid-Atlantic Region, preparing “Flounder Fillet topped with flounder mousseline and butternut squash crust
Nery Trigueros, Cornell University, Northeast Region, preparing "Flounder Two Ways" 
Mary Y Ferrer, University of California - Berkeley, Pacific Region
Cesar Tovar, Rice University, Southern Region, preparing “Pan Seared Flounder with sherry tomato ragout and lemon beurre blanc”
A representative of the Continental Region

Culinary Challenge Judges included:

Moble Masi, CMB, CEPC, AAC, HOF (lead judge)
Robert J Mancuso, CMC
Nick Zakharoff, CEC
Walter S Zuromski, CEC, CCE

Laura Strunk began her career in food services in 1997 as an American Culinary Federation apprentice at the University of Notre Dame. During her three year ACF Apprenticeship, Laura earned three gold medals and three silver medals in ACF Team Hot Food Competition.  On successfully completing her apprenticeship in February of 2000, Laura accepted the position of "Floor Chef" at the University's North Dining Hall. Following a maternity leave, Laura accepted the position of "Chef" responsible for the production of all Catering Function meals. She was a competitor in the 2006 Culinary Challenge winning regional gold and national bronze medals. In November 2006, Laura achieved her goal to be an ACF "Certified Executive Chef".

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