Culinary Challenge Winners

Tye Nielsen’s Winning Dish

NACUFS Announces Culinary Challenge Winners in Tacoma
University of Utah claims Continental title, University of California – Riverside wins the Pacific

The National Association of College & University Food Services (NACUFS) announced Chef James Jorgen of the University of Utah (UU) as the Continental regional winner and Chef Tye Nielsen of the University of California – Riverside (UCR) as the Pacific regional winner for the NACUFS 2024 Culinary Challenge competitions in Tacoma, Washington. The competition was held at the Greater Tacoma Convention Center as part of the NACUFS 2024 Spring Conference in Tacoma, Washington. Chefs Jorgen and Nielsen will advance to the national level competition at the NACUFS 2024 National Conference, taking place July 17-20 in Louisville, Kentucky, along with winners from four other regions.

James Jorgen Winning Dish

The annual NACUFS Culinary Challenge, created in 2001 and sanctioned by the American Culinary Federation (ACF), recognizes the vast culinary expertise in collegiate foodservice. Each year, a protein is selected that competitors must use to create an original recipe to form a nutritionally balanced plate. Individual competitors’ creations are judged based on a 100-point scale to rate organization, cooking skills, culinary technique and taste.

Jorgen, sous chef at UU, won first place and an ACF gold medal for his pan-seared branzino, ratatouille-stuffed eggplant with saffron bulgur wheat, gambas al ajillo, Jerusalem artichoke purée and Provençal compote. Originally a native of Bangkok, Thailand, Jorgen began his culinary career in hotels, accepting his current position in 2023 where he oversees culinary operations for the Peterson Heritage Center Dining Hall. He is participating under the direction of his mentors Peter Hodgson, CEC, AAC, and Ken Ohlinger, campus executive chef, both of UU.

James Jorgen

Known as Chef Jim, Jorgen’s passion comes from wanting to express himself through great-tasting

“Food creates memories,” Jorgen said. “Customers may not remember a particular dish, but they will
remember how it made them feel.”

Nielsen, culinary manager of catering at UCR, won first place and an ACF gold medal for his Southern
Surf and Turf recipe.

Tye Nielsen

“Over the last 25 years I’ve immersed myself into a magnitude of restaurant operations and styles, kitchens big and small, and fine dining to quick serve,” Nielsen said. “I feel you never know what you’re capable of until trial by fire.”

The NACUFS 2024 Culinary Challenge is sponsored by US Foods and Cintas.

Other Culinary Challenge competitors earned ACF medals as well. From the Continental region, Mathew Branson, executive chef at the University of Wyoming; Danny Kelley, chef de cuisine at Montana State University; John Newman, chef of the Skyroom at Brigham Young University; Hailey Palmer, executive sous chef at the University of Montana; and Kathy Vest, sous chef at Laramie County Community College, all received ACF medals.

Jonathan Harthorn received a silver medal from the American Culinary Federation at the event.

From the Pacific region, Chef Eric Adabkhah from Pacific Lutheran University; Chef Jonathan Harthorn of Oregon State University; and Jose Solis, sous chef at Stanford University, received ACF medals as well.

Previous winners can be found at

About NACUFS – Founded in 1958 by a group of college and university foodservice professionals from across the United States. Since its inception, the National Association of College & University Food Services (NACUFS) has focused on its mission to support and promote excellence in collegiate dining by providing members with the programs and resources they need to excel, from benchmarking and best practices to educational programming and professional networking.

NACUFS institutional members include private colleges to large public universities, and two-year colleges to four-year universities and span the United States, Canada, and beyond. Industry members include food and equipment manufacturers, distributors, brokers, foodservice support companies, councils, boards, trade associations, advisory commissions, and other professional groups. For more information, visit

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