Meet Utahna Warren, a Student Chef of the Year award winner


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. Western Region Student Chef of the Year Utahna Warren is a student at Utah Valley University’s Culinary Art Institute and expects to graduate in 2019. She’s no stranger to competition, winning regional first place with her Pro Start team in 2014 and taking second at the state level. She also won a silver medal at a FCCLA Culinary Arts Competition.

What was the regional championship like for you? How did it feel to win?
It felt truly humbling to win. Mostly I was grateful for everyone who had helped me on the way. It’s bittersweet to compete because in the process of preparing and practicing, I always fall in love with my dish. And after competing, it’s unlikely I’ll make the entire dish again just because of how much went into it.

How are you preparing for the Convention competitions?
I am currently preparing for a Category K competition [Practical and Contemporary Hot Food Cooking] to maintain my skills and to keep me on my toes so that when I find out what my protein is I’ll be ready to roll.

Had you ever done any cooking competitions before this experience?
I had been on the ProStart team and we went to state. I had also done a student pastry competition as well as the SK Category competition.

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?
Ha! At the regional competition, the stoves we used were way hotter than what I had practiced with and one of the handles of my pressure cooker had turned to ashes when I took it off the stove. Luckily my braise didn’t burn. I just quickly wiped the ashes off of the counter. The sauce I made from my braising liquid was still delicious.

IMG_0631What impact do you think this award will have on your life? Has it already had an impact?
I think it will open many doors for me. It has already impacted me … many of the students at the Culinary Arts Institute look up to me and ask me for advice.

What’s been the best advice you’ve gotten as a culinary student?
Don’t get caught up in the sweat, blood and tears from the work you put in. Do it because you love doing it.

What advice would you give to other aspiring chefs?
Always look for ways to give back. I have a hard time enjoying cooking when I’m the only one that benefits from it. I made my Regional dish for my family once and it really made all the work worth it.

What’s an average day for you like?
I wouldn’t say I have an average day because my schedule varies a lot with school but in my week I go to various culinary classes, I work at our Culinary Arts Institutes Cafe that we students run and I find time to practice and experiment with a dish I’m working on.

Warren, UtahnaWhat’s the first thing you do when you get to work or school? Tell us a little about that.
Mise en Place. Really though. I try to get there early to have everything set up. And that’s not only physically. Mise en Place includes what’s going on in your mind. I try to think about what I have to do throughout the day so that I can be prepared and use my time the best I can.

What’s the last thing you do before you go home in the evening? 
Clean and clean and clean. I love coming back to a clean kitchen everyday.

What was the worst thing that happened to you this week?
Getting cut by tin foil — which I’m not complaining about.

What was the best thing that happened to you this week?
Figuring out my components for my Category K competition.

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!