by Jocelyn Tolbert
At Cook. Craft. Create. in July, one student from each of the four regions will compete to become ACF’s Student Chef of the Year. Central Region Student Chef of the Year Andrew Dos Santos will earn his Associate’s Degree in Culinary Arts next spring, and works as a line cook at Walnut Creek Country Club. He’s quite involved on the competition circuit, as Nationals will be his eighth time competing. He was MCCA Student of the Year in 2017 and apprenticed for Chris Johnson, MCCA’s 2016 Chef of the Year.
What was the regional championship like for you? How did it feel to win?
The regional championship was amazing. I got to travel and compete with my boss, Chef Robert Coran. We had often practiced together in our kitchen at work in preparation for the state competition and then obviously the regional as well.
It felt great to win. Not only do I get to go represent my chapter and school at the national convention, so do Chefs Robbie and Mark Slessor, as the central Chef and pastry Chef of the year, both of them being OCC alumni.
How are you preparing for the Convention competitions?
Just by trying to keep the competition mindset with everything I do — work, school, or otherwise whilst I wait for the required ingredients to come from the competition committee. Then practice, practice, practice.
Had you ever done any cooking competitions before this experience?
Yes, Nationals will be my sixth. First was on my culinary team at OCC last year, then a Skills USA competition. I was also one of the apprentices to last year’s Central Chef of the Year, Chris Johnson, at the Orlando conference, the Student of the Year at the state level, and then, most recently, my second year competing with my team at OCC on the state level.
Has anything unexpected ever happened to you during a competition? What did you do to get through it? How did it turn out in the end?
I think the most unexpected thing to happen to me would’ve been during my first competition. I was the classical fish course for the year. One of the last things I had to do before first course went out was to finish the sauce for the fish. It was a beurre blanc-style of sauce with the reduction consisting of the cussion from the fish, mushroom liquor and heavy cream. I made the mistake of letting the cussion getting too hot before adding the butter. The sauce ended up breaking and by the time it was too late, I realized that I had some extra cold cream in the cooler that I could’ve used to reduce the temperature of the cussion before attempting to emulsify the butter. Needless to say, a broken sauce on a classical course didn’t bode to well for our team.
What impact do you think this award will have on your life? Has it already had an impact?
The entire competition process even from starting with the team a year and a half ago has had quite the impact. The support from my fellow students and everyone at my local chapter, the MCCA, has been fantastic. Not to mention that without that first year, I probably wouldn’t be working for the great chef that I am now, Chef Drew Sayes, who himself was representing the Central Region at the National Convention in 2015.
What’s been the best advice you’ve gotten as a culinary student?
The best advice I’ve been given as a culinary student may not have been an actual piece of advice from any one person, but more of a lesson I’ve learned. In my eyes, the three most important traits that any good chef should hold dear are humility, determination and respect. It sounds corny but it couldn’t be any more of the truth. Nobody is born knowing how to cook. Those traits and that mentality are instrumental on any culinarian’s path to becoming a great chef.
What’s an average day for you like?
It varies from day to day based on my school schedule. [I usually] wake up around 6 or 7 a.m. depending on whether or not I have class, then off to school if I do have class or if I’m going in to assist another class. When I have a competition to prepare for, I’ll always be either there or at work doing my mise en place for practice or doing an actual run. If I don’t go to school or work early, I’ll stay home until I have to leave for work at 1 p.m., then home by anywhere between 10-12 depending on how busy service was.
What’s the first thing you do when you get to work or school? Tell us a little about that.
First thing at school can vary from day to day. Work is pretty straightforward though: Get in, get a drink, turn on any equipment that wasn’t on in the morning, set up my station and then get to work on any prep I may have to do before service.
What’s the last thing you do before you go home in the evening?
Last thing to be done before I go home will be to finish scrubbing the floors with my coworkers, along with any last minute thing that has to be taken care of before we go, whether it be handling the stocks or pulling anything out for that may be needed for the next day.
What was the worst thing that happened to you this week?
Honestly, it’s been a pretty great week. I don’t think I really have anything worth complaining about.
What was the best thing that happened to you this week?
The best thing definitely was the fact that we opened our upscale kitchen at the club for the year. The first night was pretty slow, but on Saturday we had a really great, steady service. Everything went really smooth for the first good day on a new menu for a new year.
At Cook. Craft. Create. in New Orleans July 15-19, four students will compete to become ACF’s Student Chef of the Year. The national convention will feature additional educational and engagement opportunities that will build off the ChefConnect series and will provide a revitalizing experience for members, foodservice professionals, students and competitors. All the while igniting innovation that attendees can bring back to their classroom, employees or kitchen! We hope to see you there!
Editor’s note, 5/29/18: An earlier version of this post stated that this will be Dos Santos’ sixth time competing, when it is actually his eighth. He will also graduate next spring, not spring 2018.