Parkhurst ‘Chopped’ Competition Challenges Guests to Become the Chefs

When Parkhurst came on board as Centre College’s dining provider in the summer of 2022, both teams were like-minded in one specific goal.

“One of Centre’s main goals when searching for a new dining partner was to bring in people who are passionate about food,” said Parkhurst General Manager at Centre College, Samantha Balistreri. “And we at Parkhurst are foodies, that’s what we love—food and people.”

Parkhurst celebrates their love of food through events that foster connection, so Balistreri and her team worked with the College to put on a Chopped-style competition. Eighteen students and staff members signed up to compete in an event that required them to prepare a meal with ingredients Parkhurst Dining provided, all while being mindful of dietary restrictions and allergens.

Then, the judges, consisting of faculty and Parkhurst team members like Balistreri, determined a winner through plate presentation, teamwork, cleanliness, taste of the dish, and cohesiveness of the ingredients.

“When the social media post hit [to sign up for the event], we had all our contestants lined up. We were full in one day.”

In fact, the Parkhurst team had to pack all the dining tables to the back of the dining hall because there were so many participating groups. They were blown away by the enthusiasm for such an event and pleasantly surprised by the student chefs.

“We underestimated their skill and talent for cooking. We could have thrown in Jolly Ranchers, and they would have come up with something awesome,” said Balistreri.

Six teams of three competed over the course of 40 minutes, producing meals that ranged from curry dishes to a stir-fry that Balistreri says she’s still thinking about.

“The table that won made hummus, and the competitor actually made it with a fork. That team made four prepared items, which impressed us. The next table made pho using vermicelli [pasta].”

Prizes included three baskets of utensils, cutting boards, strainers, and cookbooks. Parkhurst also found a local trophy shop to make trophies, and the participants also got to keep their chef coats.

“Above our dining hall is a hallway with offices lined up with spectators from above. The student body really showed up to support these competitors, as did the president of the College and other campus leaders. There was cheering and everything. It really drew in a great crowd.”

In addition to entertaining current students and faculty, an unanticipated crowd ended up responding positively to the event.

“While we were hosting the Chopped event, prospective students were touring and stopped to watch the excitement. Centre later heard from some of these recruits that this event helped them confirm their decision to go to Centre because of the dining program.”

Those incoming students will have some competition when they arrive on campus. Everyone now wants a shot at being part of Centre Chopped.

“We ended up receiving a ton of positive feedback about this event. The students who didn’t get to participate asked us after, ‘When are you doing the next one?’”