UCR Chef Robert Grider Wins Gold Medal at Regional Culinary Challenge

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Lothian Residential Restaurant manager finishes second overall with his Panang Lobster Curry dish

By on April 8, 2014

Chef Robert Grider, culinary manager of the Lothian Residential Restaurants.

Chef Robert Grider, culinary manager of the Lothian Residential Restaurants.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Chef Robert Grider, senior culinary operations manager of the Lothian Residential Restaurant at the University of California, Riverside, can proudly call himself one of the best collegiate chefs in the west. And he has a gold medal to prove it.

Grider’s Panang Lobster Curry won him an American Culinary Federation (ACF) Gold medal at the National Association of College and University Food Services Pacific Regional Culinary Challenge at their annual conference at the Radisson Hotel in Los Angeles on April 4. He placed second overall, earning a $250 cash prize, and placed just behind overall winner Ed Glebus of San Diego State University. The pair were the only competitors to finish between 36 and 40 points, earning the ACF gold medal.

The competition pitted 12 top chefs from the Pacific region, including two from Mexico and 2014 national winner Bryce Bennes of Orange Coast College. The chefs were each given two live Maine lobsters and they had just one hour to cook four portions of an original, nutritionally balanced hot entrée, with side dishes and sauces.

“My dish merged Thai and Indian cuisines,” Grider said. “To celebrate UC Riverside’s citrus history, I incorporated three different varietals of lime in the dish to really highlight the taste of the lobster.”

chef cooking

Chef Robert Grider is watched by a panel of judges as he prepares his Panang Lobster Curry. Photo by Cheryl Garner

Chefs were critiqued in a variety of categories, including creativity, serving and portion size, flavor, presentation, nutritional balance, sanitation and work habits.

“His dish was absolutely wonderful. I ate the show plate,” said challenge organizer Eric Ernest of USC, despite the fact that the dish was then cold.

Grider, who has been at UC Riverside for nearly six years, earned the right to represent UCR at the event by beating out fellow UCR chefs Charles Johnson, culinary manager at A&I Residential Restaurants and Reuben Herrington, food service manager for UCR Catering, at an on-campus contest last summer.  After the win, Grider worked with Executive Chef Lanette Dickerson to perfect his dishes, going through “about 14 different variations” of the dish in preparation for the contest.

“Lanette worked with me to help me understand what the judges would be looking for and how we could get the dish where it needed to be,” Grider said, adding that the duo also visited the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, California. “UC Riverside has afforded me unbelievable opportunities to advance my career as a chef and culinarian.”

judges doing a tasting

The judges sample Grider’s Panang Lobster Curry. Photo by Cheryl Garner

“For Robert to win second place with a gold medal both honors and validates his culinary craft,” Dickerson said. “As members of our local Inland Empire American Culinary Federation, we strive as professional chefs to continue our culinary education and develop our skills and to keep up with changes and trends in the culinary industry and the dining culture at universities. I don’t know of any better evidence of this constant effort for improvement than being able to say ‘We have a gold medal-winning chef operating one of our dining halls at UCR’”.

“Robert did well by keeping an eye on the fundamentals of cooking techniques and sanitation, but also by cooking the main ingredient better than the rest of the group,” said Executive Director Of Dining, Catering & Conference Services Cheryl Garner. “Lobster can get get tough or mushy, so Robert needed to use this as an opportunity to learn as much as he could about the texture/grain of the meat, how it reacts to heat at specific times, etc.”

While he was thrilled with his gold-medal-performance, Grider said he came away from the event with a greater appreciation for what UCR Dining Services produces.

“What I took away is that our campus is every bit as good as any other university out there, anybody in our region,” he said.  “Our department has unbelievably high standards — we strive to provide the students and our guests with the best possible culinary experience that we can.”

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