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Three questions for Chainey Kuykendall, winner of S&D Coffee & Tea's 2016 Culinary Challenge at Johnson & Wales

Blending Filipino and Southern flavors

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Following the idiom "If at first you don't succeed: try, try again," was a wise decision for Chainey Kuykendall. Her second attempt in entering the S&D Coffee & Tea's Culinary Challenge at Johnson & Wales University, where she's a junior, amounted to her picking up the grand prize of $5,000 -- which she's kindly given to her mom -- and, more importantly, bragging rights.

For the challenge, Kuykendall had to follow a Carolinas Cookin' theme and use S&D coffee and tea extracts for her finale dish. The competition kicked off by having applicants send recipes to judges. They selected competitors, some of who were later eliminated during a second round. This lead up to last week's final round of 10 competitors.

Kuykendall, who was one of those competitors, drew inspiration from her Filipino heritage and had the help of a mentor, The King's Kitchen & Bakery's executive chef Cody Suddreth, who won as chef mentor in the competition and was given $5,000 to be donated to a charity of his choice.

Kuykendall, who was born in the Philippines and grew up in Mount Airy, is bubbling with excitement after the big win. She encourages other aspiring chefs to partake in the competition, which gives an incentive for developing new recipes.

"Just find something that you're thinking about working with and write it down," says Kuykendall. "Even if you don't use it for the competiton, you still have the idea and can play with it later." She spoke to CL about her background in food and how the challenge has helped her in honing creativity in the kitchen.

Creative Loafing: In what ways did your mentor, chef Cody Suddreth of The King's Kitchen, influence you during the S&D Culinary Challenge?

Chainey Kuykendall: My style, I'd say is mostly Asian influenced — like Korea, Japan, China and definitely Filipino. But his roots are in French cooking, a lot of European styles and also low-country Carolina based cuisine. He really got me to think about more peasant type cuisine, but also elevating it to suit a better crowd.

Instead of talking about what to do with my dish, he talked about different ingredients and Carolina cooking because he's really into that and that's what he specializes in. That's kind of how he guided me, as opposed to trying to change my dish.

You incorporated coffee into your dish, "Cheerful Blend of Carolina" (coffee-marinated beef ribs with sweet potato and congee mixture). Had you worked with coffee before and how did you come up with the idea for the dish?

The only experience I had with coffee was drinking it. I was thinking about marinating meat because in the Philippines we have a history of marinating meat with soy sauce and a kind of soda. So, I thought coffee would probably fit in there and I tried it and thought it was really good. I tried adding different things and then putting the Cheerwine — and cherries to accentuate the Cheerwine flavor — in there to represent North Carolina. After a couple of times, it tasted really good.

What are you planning to do in the future and what would you like to do after you graduate?

I think in the future, I'll probably look more at Carolina heritage and mix it with some of my background again because of the result of this recipe. I'm thinking about moving to South Korea to pursue a pastry degree and I'm also looking at joining Parachute in Chicago that specializes in modern Korean food. The end goal is to try to work at ChefSteps in Washington.

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