E&T Now Has the Nation’s Chef of the Year!

UVU’s Culinary Arts Institute Is Now Home to Nation’s Top Chef


New Orleans, LA - 

Chef Todd Leonard, Utah Valley University’s Culinary Arts Institute department chair, was named the 2018 National Chef of the Year at the American Culinary Federation national convention held in New Orleans, Louisiana July 14-19th. Chef Todd beat out four other regional winners for the first Chef of the Year national title in UVU history.

As part of the rigorous competition, Chef Todd had 90 minutes to prepare a four-course menu. Assisted by two student apprentices, AnnaLis Nielsen and Lydia Harris, Chef Todd used every second of his alloted time, finishing just seconds before his time expired. The judges, all master chefs, then huddled and compared tastes, presentation skills and sanitation scores. 

Leonard’s complicated menu consisted of: 

1st course - Southern Braised Pork Cheek with Dauphine Potatoes, Sautéed Mustard greens, Red Pepper Puree and Cajun Fried Shallots and Peppers.

2nd course - Oyster Stew with Bronzed Red Fish, Cajun Pork Cheek Sausage and Summer Vegetables Stew.

3rd course - Jambalaya Al La Chef, Pork Cheek and Tenderloin Roulade with Pork Cheek Sausage and Red Fish Collar Jambalaya, Creole Heirloom Tomato Compote, Cajun Cream and Spicy Tomato Sausage with Buttery Sautéed Asparagus.

4th course - Seafood Trio- Smoked Creole Butter Red Fish, CT Oyster Rockefeller, and Cajun Red Fish Mousseline with Cayenne Butter Sauce, Summer Root Vegetable Puree, Sautéed Sweet Corn Medley and Glazed Carrots and Butternut Squash.

“Hey, if it was easy, anybody could do it,” joked a jubilant Chef Todd. “I knew I needed to make a big impression on the judges with an over-the-top menu and leave no doubt who was the best chef this year. It was intense knowing that one mishap, one mis-step, one tiny little thing going wrong would have cost me the title. But clearly, it was a risk worth taking.”

Additionally, a five-member team of UVU culinary arts students also won the national title in the Culinary Knowledge Bowl “Final Four” event. The final four teams, including UVU, each advanced by winning their respective regional championships, beating dozens of high quality opponents along the way.

Members of UVU’s national championship team were; Abby Raff, Alex Robertson (captain), Hailey Newman, Jeremy Hanson with Karri Lowe as alternate. UVU Chef Instructor K.J. Francom served as the team’s head coach with UVU Associate Professor Meghan Roddy as assistant coach.

UVU’s Knowledge Bowl team dominated in their first two matches of the double elimination event before stumbling in the first finals match, forcing a deciding match with the Culinary Institute of Michigan. In the final match, the Wolverines returned to form and cruised to the national championship with a 380-70 win. The victory marked the second time in three years that UVU has won the national title.

“This was a true team effort,” said coach K.J. Francom, Assistant Professor and Chef Instructor at UVU’s Culinary Arts Institute. “These students put in so many hours of preparation and to see it pay off is just tremendously rewarding.”

Utahna Warren, a Senior UVU culinary student from Provo, Utah, competed for the title of Student Chef of the Year, but fell just short, finishing in the top four in the nation.

As the Western regional winner, Warren had just ninety minutes to prepare a world class dish to impress a team of seasoned top level chefs. Warren’s award winning dish was titled, Lamb Loin Trio. She made country lamb roulade, savory lamb bouche and lamb tenderloin medallion with cherry pomegranate lamb jus, fig and apricot chutney, summer puree, mint pesto, braised kale and vegetable medley.

“It was a very involved dish,” said a happy Chef Utahna Warren. “The judges traditionally like to see how creative you can be with the main ingredient.”

UVU Associate Professor Chef Diana Fallis also finished in the top four nationally in the Pastry Chef of the Year competition. Fallis had just three hours to create from scratch an edible sculpture along with desserts and cookies, all built around the theme, A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Her sculpture instantly became a crowd favorite with hundreds of observing chefs waiting in line to take photos.

“The judges didn’t really have anything bad to say during my critique,” said Chef Fallis, UVU Culinary Arts Associate Professor. “They hinted that perhaps my cookies could have tasted just a little better but if that’s all they could find wrong after three hours, I’ll take it.”

Chef Diana’s pastry dishes consisted of:

- Buttermilk Plum Cake with Buttermilk Almond Streusel, with Candied Almonds and Buttermilk Bourbon ice cream.

- Lemon Cream Cheese Entremet with Red Plum Gelle. A French Butter cookie, Vanilla Brandy Cream and Plum Coulis.

- Lavender Honey Glazed Plums and Plum Framboise Sorbet

- Dark Chocolate Pecan Thumbprint Cookie with Honey Lavender Ganache.

The winning UVU chefs were awarded their medals at a banquet Thursday night in front of more than a thousand of the top chefs in America who gave the winners a rousing standing ovation. This marks the third straight year UVU’s Culinary Arts Institute has come home with a national champion in at least one category. 

“As happy as I am being named Chef of the Year, I’m equally disappointed for Utahna and Diana,” said Leonard. “They put on amazing performances and I’m sure were less than a point away from winning, too. I’m just so proud of the entire UVU Culinary Arts program. It truly is one of the greatest places for culinary studies in the country.” 

Click below to see mouth-watering pictures of UVU’s 2018 ACF national championship efforts:

See photos from the convention

To learn more about UVU’s Culinary Arts Institute visit us here