UVU Student Wins ACF Pastry Chef of the Year

UVU Student Wins ACF Pastry Chef of the Year

The American Culinary Federation is sweet on Utah Valley University (UVU).

UVU Culinary Arts Institute Student Kambree Thomas won Student Pastry Chef of the Year during the American Culinary Federation (ACF) Convention held in New Orleans from July 16-19,  marking the second year in a row UVU has had a student win Student Pastry Chef of the Year.

After winning the ACF regional pastry competition in Kansas City earlier this year, Thomas set her sights on the national title. She spent three months preparing her dessert, all while finishing her final semester at UVU.

Thomas prepared an homage to the city of New Orleans and Mardi Gras, a chicory coffee entremets cake and bananas foster ice cream, garnished with a fleur-de-lis cookie and figs.

“Once I was on stage and saw my name on the little screen announcing that I was the winner, was so excited,” she said. “All that hard work paid off. I wanted to see if I could do it, and this was a great personal accomplishment for me.”

Beginning in March, Thomas spent 20 hours a week every week practicing her dessert, a process which includes preparing ingredients, baking, and cleaning the work station. She did this while completing her final classes with her professor and mentor, Chef Diana Fallis.

“[Chef Di] is an amazing person,” Thomas said. “She has done 20 competitions herself, so she's had so much experience of how they work and she had so many tips. It was awesome working with her, she had so many great ideas.”

Chef Fallis mentored Thomas through all phases of the competition, even going to New Orleans with her to help her procure ingredients. She remarked she was impressed with Thomas’s dedication to making her best dessert.

“Mentoring is always hard just because you have to give up half your week to donate your time to do this competition,” she said. “But Kambree was very receptive, we worked as a team instead of me just coming in and saying, ‘This is what you're going to do, and this is how you're going to do it.’ She worked super hard, she practiced hard, she showed up on time, she knew stuff had to get done, she was an excellent choice for this competition. I never had to tell her twice or three times or four times to do something. She wanted this and she had the personality and the drive to just she just nailed it.”

A freeze in New Orleans in March of 2023 devastated Louisiana’s fig production, a necessary component in Thomas’s dessert. She scoured grocery stores and even went to a fig farm to retrieve her precious ingredient, but to no avail. Her grandparents flew in emergency figs from Utah so she could create her dessert.

“My grandparents actually went to Harmons and flew in fix the night before I competed,” Thomas said. “The figs landed at about midnight, and I competed at 6:45 the next morning. I wouldn’t have won if figs hadn’t been shipped to me.”

Thomas now works at the Foundry Grill at Sundance Mountain Resort in Provo, UT and has big plans for her future. She hopes the engaged learning experiences she’s had at UVU will propel her to success.

“I want to own a bakery, she said. “Whether it be in Utah I don't know yet. I would love to go work outside of the country go to Europe. I am doing the restaurant right now at Sundance, but I'm hoping to get into the bakery in the next few weeks.”

“I always tell the students we offer opportunities for students to get more one on one training through [competitions],” Chef Fallis said. “We tell the students that if they choose to take these opportunities, they will come out head and shoulders above your other students that choose not to. We really like to encourage these engaged learning experiences.”

Learn more about the UVU Culinary Arts Institute by visiting https://www.uvu.edu/culinary/