UCR chef wins gold medal in cooking challenge

Author: Imran Ghori
April 10, 2024

A chef with UC Riverside Dining Services took first place in a cooking competition hosted by the National Association of College & University Food Services.

Tye Nielsen, a culinary manager for Dining Services’ catering division, took the gold medal in the association’s Pacific Regional 2024 Culinary Challenge at its convention in Tacoma, Washington, on March 25. He now advances to the national competition in July. 

Tye Nielsen

The association represents culinary staff in collegiate dining with the challenge showcasing exceptional culinary expertise.

During a timed challenge before 100 onlookers at the convention, Nielsen prepared an original “surf and surf” recipe he conceived.

Competitors were required to use a specific set of ingredients: two Branzino fish, a pound of shrimp, and one cup of bulgur wheat. Nielsen’s recipe was a play on Southern-style shrimp and grits. He pureed the bulgur to get the texture of grits, and cooked the shrimp in it. He blackened the Branzino and paired it with paprika, shishito peppers, and a sweet corn puree to create a sweet and spicy combination.

The challenge allowed competitors five minutes to prepare their cooking station, an hour to prepare their dish, and 10 minutes to plate and present to the judges.

The culinary challenge was Nielsen’s first time competing, an experience he enjoyed.

Dining Services held its own internal competition for interested chefs before choosing Nielsen’s dish for the regional challenge. He practiced his dish about 20 times over two months in front of his coworkers to prepare for the regional competition.

He plans to do the same again in the weeks before the national competition in July.

“I had a lot of people in my corner,” Nielsen said. “I’m the only chef from the UC family competing so I’ve had a people from other schools reaching out to give their support. It’s been really cool.”

Nielsen has been with Dining Services for two years and previously worked for restaurants in the casino industry for 17 years.  But his passion for cooking dates back to his childhood, when he hung out at his parent’s restaurant.

“Since I was real small, the prep kitchen was my babysitter,” Nielsen said.