Previous Winners

2018 | Humberto Espinal, Yale University 

Humberto's culinary career began early on, inspired by his mother and his love for seafood, he
started part-time in the dish room at a Spanish restaurant in New York. Self-taught and extremely
motivated, he worked his way through various restaurants before ending up as Chef de partie at a
New Haven restaurant institution.

Humberto continued to seek opportunities to further develop his own creativity and joined Yale
Hospitality in 2014 as a round cook. He has held various positions over his time at Yale, including
high-end catering, residential operations and now can be found behind the wok station at the Yale
School of Management.

Seafood is still his favorite menu item. He enchants the diverse international student population at
the School of Management everyday with his unique dishes.

In his free time, his life is always about cooking. He enjoys fishing and camping (about 90 percent of the time still spent cooking) with his two children.

2017 | Robert Bankert, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Robert Bankert, chef at University of Massachusetts Amherst, was awarded first place in the 17th annual Culinary Challenge, held at the NACUFS national conference on July 13, 2017. Bankert won the challenge and a gold medal from the ACF with his dish, "Pork Loin wrapped with Porcini Farce & Confit Fat Cap, Polenta, braised wild mushrooms & kale, skillet roasted fennel, apricot glaze"

Bankert commented on his win, “Nashville is a really great city, and it was great to be a part of my first National NACUFS Conference. I want to thank UMass for all of the support they gave me before and during the competition. The competition was fierce as there were a lot of talented culinarians! Winning the competition was the goal, however it was the overall experience and knowledge that I picked up along the way that made the competition a real success for me. All of the Chef’s should be proud of making it to the National Competition as it was no easy task to get there for any of us!”

Chef Bob Bankert grew up in the restaurant industry, working at his family's restaurant in upstate New York at a young age. Bob quickly realized that he wanted to continue to immerse himself in cooking and attended the New England Culinary Institute after high school. After graduating with a BA in Food & Beverage Management, Bob moved to Florida to work at Admiral's Cove in Jupiter, working in both the front of the house and the back of the house.

In 2006, Bob decided he wanted to move back to the northeast, and took a job as a sous chef at Castle Hill Inn in Newport, RI. Chef Bob's culinary career took off from there as was promoted to Chef Tournant and then to Executive Sous Chef while helping Castle Hill Inn achieve the prestigious status of Relais & Châteaux.

Chef Bob continued his growth in Newport as he went on to be the Executive Chef of The Mooring Restaurant, part of the same restaurant group that owns Castle Hill Inn. Chef Bob helped make The Mooring one of the best seafood restaurants in the state while focusing on sustainable, locally caught seafood. 

In 2014, Chef Bob moved to Amherst, MA to become Chef de Cuisine at the award-winning UMass Amherst Dining Services. Chef Bob brought a lot of new ideas and inspiration to the menus at UMass Amherst, including a focus on sustainable seafood, and has helped UMass become #1 in the nation for Best Campus Food.

Outside of work, Bob loves spending time with his wife and two girls, as well as running, brewing beer, and traveling. 

2016 | Charu Chandra Pant, University of Notre Dame

Charu Chandra Pant, chef at University of Notre Dame, was awarded first place in the 16th annual Culinary Challenge, held at the NACUFS national conference on July 14, 2016. Pant won the challenge and a gold medal from the ACF with his dish, "Seared Lamb with Red Rice Pilaf, Tourneed Turnips with Sweet Tomato Sauce, Cucumber Mint Raita, and Rich Tomoato Shorba." 

Charu has been a part of the University of Notre Dames Campus Dining Team since 2007. Currently he serves as an Executive Chef for the University’s South Dining Hall, one of the two dining hall on campus which serves three -3000 meals per day. He had been the test kitchen chef as well as Retail Executive Chef at the university before moving to South Dining Hall.

He is a native of India, where he also graduated from the Hotel Management Institute. He worked couple years at the hotels in India before coming to the United States to advance his culinary ambitions.

He is a graduate of Grand Rapid Community College’s (GRCC) Hospitality Education Department and graduated with an Associate’s degree in culinary management and a certificate in Baking and Pastry Arts, receiving the GRCC’s Director’s award and Valedictorian award.

After finishing his culinary education from GRCC, Charu joined Kalamazoo’s finest 4-diamond restaurant - Webster- located inside Radisson Plaza Hotel. Within eight months of his stay at Webster he got promoted to Sous Chef, where he diligently proved himself for over five years as a very confident leader and a chef, evolving Webster to new culinary height and excellence. He left Radisson and moved to East to fulfill his dream of working with Marriott at Wardman Park Hotel in Washington DC-a 1300-room convention hotel. Even though his stay at Wardman was short-lived because of the opportunity to work for Notre Dame, he was part of opening up a new casual up-scale restaurant with his Executive Chef of Stone’s Throw, inside the hotel.

Currently, he is certified as a CEC by ACF along with being a Certification Evaluator for ACF. His culinary awards include winning the NACUFS sponsored National Collegiate Championship in Las Vegas at ACF National Convention in 2013. ACF’s gold medal at Central region Culinary Knowledge Bowl and runner-up at the ACF Nationals while he attended GRCC. He has won Chef Chapter of the year at ACF South Bend chapter in 2010 and 2013. He also holds office of Treasurer for the ACF South Bends Chef Chapter.

2015 | Cassie Kelsch, University of Utah

Cassie Kelsch, chef at University of Utah, was awarded first place in the 15th annual Culinary Challenge, held at the NACUFS national conference on July 15, 2015. Kelsch won the challenge and a gold medal from the ACF with her dish, "Pan seared bison flank steak with huckleberry demi." 

Cassie attended Manila High School and while in high school volunteered to cook meals for the homeless, firefighters, the local police force and helped in bake sales and fundraisers for our school as well. She was enrolled in the Prostart program through the Utah Restaurant Association, where she gained her servsafe certification and ignited her passion for the culinary arts. Cassie was in the program for three years, in the last two years as the captain of the Manila High Prostart Culinary team who went to state both years; won best appetizer and an award for our teamwork and organization the first year, and best dessert the second year. 

She gets her passion for cooking not only from Prostart but from her dad and grandma’s passion for food. Ever since she was little she would go to her Grandmas and cook food with her, making all kinds of treats but the most common was homemade donuts.

Currently Cassie works for Chartwells Higher Education at the University of Utah to gain experience and train with the corporate and executive chefs to give her a firm ground before going to culinary school at the Utah Valley University in 2016. By competing in this competition, she feels it will push her and bring her closer to reaching her goal in this industry, which would be to learn and become the best chef she can, and maybe one day be the Executive Chef of her own restaurant. 

2014 | Matthia Joseph Accurso, University of Massachusetts

Matthia Joseph Accurso, chef at University of Massachusetts, was awarded first place in the 14th annual Culinary Challenge, held at the NACUFS national conference on July 10, 2014. Accurso won the challenge and a gold medal from the ACF with his dish, "Slow cooked lobster with kale tortellini, citrus glazed carrots, celery root, and fennel butter sauce."

Matthia Accurso spent 8 years acquiring his training and education as the Sous Chef for the University Club at the University of Missouri. During this time he acquired his Certified Chef de Cuisine status from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. After that he spent 3 years as the Executive Sous Chef for the prestigious Metropolitan Club of Washington D.C. before coming to the University of Massachusetts to be the chef of the catering department.

2013 | Bryce Benes, Orange Coast College

Bryce Benes, chef at Orange Coast College, was awarded first place in the 13th annual Culinary Challenge, held at the NACUFS national conference on July 11, 2013. Benes won the challenge and a gold medal from the ACF with his dish, "Duo of Duck: Crispy Pan Seared Breast with Cherry Gastrique/Cassoulet Style Confit." 

After receiving his associates degree in culinary arts, Bryce worked in restaurants for several years until moving to Orange County, California in 2005, where he was hired as a cook for Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa. Bryce has traveled to Germany to see the Culinary Olympics, and has visited the flavorful Tuscan region of Italy. In 2011, he achieved the rank of Certified Chef de Cuisine by the American Culinary Federation. He has worked for one of California's top catering companies and recently started doing work for an award-winning food truck. He also enjoys teaching culinary classes to the public as a community education instructor.  

2012 | Laura Marie Strunk, University of Notre Dame

Laura Marie Strunk, chef at University of Notre Dame, was awarded first place in the 12th annual Culinary Challenge, held at the NACUFS national conference on July 12, 2012. Strunk won the challenge and a gold medal from the ACF with  her dish, "Citrus-Cured Sauteed Flounder with Vanilla Bean Beurre Blanc and Panko Fennel Crusted Fried Oyster and Citrus Pearls with Pan Caramelized Rutabaga and Carrots, Black Barley Pilaf and Zucchini Coulis." 

Laura began her career in 1997, as an American Culinary Federation apprentice at the University of Notre Dame. Upon completion, Laura accepted the position of Floor Chef at the University's North Dining Hall. She later accepted the position of Chef, responsible for the production of all catering function meals, serving over 8,000 events yearly. In 2006, Laura won the Midwest Regional Culinary Challenge, went on to receive a bronze medal at the National Culinary Challenge and achieved her goal by becoming a Certified Executive Chef through the American Culinary Federation. 

2011 | Kris Saradpon, San Diego State University

Kris Saradpon, chef at San Diego State University, was awarded first place in the 11th annual Culinary Challenge, held at the NACUFS national conference on July 14, 2011. Saradpon won the challenge and a gold medal from the ACF with  his dish, "The Tri-Tip Trio." The beef tri-tip was highlighted and prepared three different ways; raw and finely chopped; seared as a steak; and cubed and braised like a pot roast. Each preparation had its own accompaniments including Dijon mustard and micro greens; mushroom duxelle, batonnet zucchini, carmelized red onions, and a crunchy potato gaufrette; and hand-mashed Yukon Gold potatoes, a rich brown sauce, peas and tourneed carrot.

After earning his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science at the University of California, San Diego, Kris pursued his passion for food at Grossmont Community College where he simultaneously earned two Associate of Occupational Sciences degrees in Culinary Arts and Baking & Pastry, respectively. Under the guidance of Culinary Olympics Gold Medalist and Grossmont College chef instructor Joe Orate, Kris found his passion for culinary competitions. Kris has earned many culinary awards and has been a Cold Prep Kitchen Assistant Manager at San Diego State University for over three years. He enjoys overcoming the changing challenges that each new day brings.

2010 | Kylie Charter, Rhode Island School of Design

Kylie Charter, chef at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), was awarded first place in the 10th annual Culinary Challenge, held at the NACUFS national conference on July 8, 2010. Charter won the challenge and a silver medal from the ACF with her dish, stuffed salmon, vegetables and Muscat mustard crème, served with Portobello gnudi and pea green and radish salad. 

Charter holds two bachelor’s degrees, one in culinary arts and one in culinary nutrition, from Johnson and Wales University in Providence, RI. She graduated Magna Cum-Laude and was awarded the Aprenti Cuisinier award for excellence in her field of study. Since working at RISD, Kylie has been teaching cooking classes and working on programs and events that focus on sustainability and supporting local farmers, artisans and bakers.

2009 | Nathan Mileski, Northern Michigan University

Nathan Mileski, senior chef/unit manager at Northern Michigan University of Marquette, Michigan, began his hospitality career at the age of 15. He began his formal education at Northern Michigan University, and later transferred and completed a Culinary Arts degree from The Culinary Institute of America, graduating in 2000. In 2001 he took his first executive chef / food & beverage director position at Drummond Island Resort and Conference Center, formerly owned by Domino's Pizza founder Thomas Monaghan.

Under Nathan's direction, Bayside Dining, the resort's fine dining restaurant, was featured in the December 2006 Michigan editions of Gourmet and Bon Appétit as one of twelve "Great Restaurants of America", and also in Savor Michigan Cookbook as one of thirty-six featured chefs. Nathan has received two ACF Upper Michigan Chef of the year awards (1997 & 2002) as well as ACF Certified Executive Chef status in January 2009. Nathan has also served as ACF Upper Michigan Chapter president from 2000-2004, as well as chairman of the board from 2005-2009.

2008 | Anthony Jung, University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Anthony Jung, chef at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, was awarded first place in the 8th annual NACUFS Culinary Challenge. The American Culinary Federation (ACF) sanctions NACUFS’ annual culinary competition and this year’s event was classified as a K/9 Customized Competition. Jung received the first place award and a gold medal from the ACF for his entrée: Morel Crusted Striped Bass with Asparagus Broth, Dijon Gnocchi, and Carrot Batonnet. Anthony Jung began his culinary career at a very young age, working at his family owned restaurant. Little did he know then, that cooking would be his life’s work.

Anthony Jung is the chef at the newly renovated Berkshire Dining Commons, a 12 station concept dining facility, featuring Asian stir-fry, brick oven pizza, grill, bakery, and a traditional pho-noodle station. Berkshire Dining Commons was awarded best renovation from Food Management Magazine.  In 2006 Anthony was awarded a gold medal at the NACUFS Northeast Regional and placed second at nationals. In 2007 Anthony was awarded gold again at the Northeast Regional.  Also in 2007 Anthony captained a rookie Umass team to an ACF silver medal at the Flavors of the World Conference held at Umass.

2007 | Barry Greenberg, University of Iowa-Memorial Union

Barry Greenberg, director/executive chef at the University of Iowa-Memorial Union, was awarded first place in the 7th annual NACUFS Culinary Challenge. The American Culinary Federation (ACF) sanctions NACUFS’ annual culinary competition and this year’s event was classified as an F/3 Customized Competition. With an overall score of 35.75 points, Greenberg received the first place award and a silver medal from the ACF for his entrée: Asian Bento Box.

Greenberg began his formal culinary career by attending Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. Upon graduating from the Culinary Arts program, he worked in kitchens of great resorts in Vermont, Martha’s Vineyard, Vail, and San Diego. He returned to school and completed his management degree in 1992. Greenberg received his Executive Chef’s Certification (CEC) from the American Culinary Federation in 2003, and has been actively involved with various culinary and recipe competitions, which include winning the ACF Gold Medal at the Upper Midwest Restaurant Show and the top honors in the Cattlemen’s ‘Best of the Barbecue’ recipe competition. 


2006 | Edward Castillo

Edward Castillo, sous chef at Rice University, was awarded first place in the sixth annual Culinary Challenge. The American Culinary Federation (ACF) sanctions NACUFS’ annual culinary competition and this year’s event was classified as a K1 Customized Competition. Castillo received the first place award and a gold medal from the ACF for his entrée:  Pan-Seared Chicken Supreme with Porcini Mushroom Sauce. Castillo has always had a big passion for cooking.  At an early age he began watching his mother create all the delicious food of the southwest.  His passion grew more and landed him in the Art Institute of Houston, where he graduated in 2001 with a culinary degree.

Castillo has competed in numerous ACF sanctioned competitions and is a proud holder of bronze and silver medals.  He recently won a silver medal at the TRA Food Expo in the Iron Chef of the Southwest.  Focused on obtaining his ACF Certification, Castillo spends the majority of his spare time studying, training, and practicing his culinary technique.