When JWU Providence Culinary Arts student Sam Farley arrived in India with his mentor, Chef Rainer Hienerwadel, for the 2020 Young Chef Olympiad, they had zero time to take in the sights. Almost immediately, the duo began prepping for the competition, which brought together promising young chefs from 55 countries to cook in 5 cities across India (Delhi, Bangalore, Pune, Goa and Kolkata).
But the intensity of the competition was matched by the instant friendships that were forged over prep tables and at long-table dinners.
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In the end, Farley brought home two medals: One for Best Young Chef Ambassador for the U.S. (the student representatives from Italy, Mexico and Bangladesh were also honored) and one for Sustainability, which was the official theme of this year’s Olympiad. For Farley and Hienerwadel alike, it’s a topic they’re passionate about.
The two make an unusual duo — the passionate young chef and his exacting but compassionate mentor. Farley grew up in a fast-food loving household in Huntsville, Alabama; he didn’t discover his love of cooking until high school, when he became obsessive about it. He found a dual enrollment program with a local technical college that offered culinary arts: “I did it for 3 years of high school and got so involved that, by year 3, I was a teacher’s assistant and their competitor for all competitions. I also helped run the school’s catering company as a sous chef.”
“The most significant thing about the competition is the friendships that last a lifetime.”
At the age of 12, Hienerwadel went to work with his father, who just happened to be a research & development chef at Maggi, a branch of Nestlé. At 15, he began a traditional apprenticeship program. Today he is a Master Instructor at JWU Providence, as well as a WACS Global Master Chef and German Master Chef.
Hienerwadel recruits students he think will make the best candidates for the Olympiad; the blunt question he asked of Farley —a competition veteran — was, “Will you give up your life for this competition?”
Farley was up to the challenge: “Last [academic] year, I left school with issues of anxiety, depression, and a heart murmur; I spent several months figuring out how to treat it. It was one of the hardest obstacles I have ever faced. This year I returned … and was ready to take on anything. Chef Rainer offered the Young Chef Olympiad as a way to dive back into high-speed culinary challenges. Training has been one of the toughest challenges of my life.”
For months on end, the two chefs did timed run-throughs of the required dishes, which included marinated chicken in filo; pear flan; beet risotto; and gumbo with Old Bay prawns. The goal? Beat the clock while adhering to best practices of food safety and waste reduction. (All competitors gauged their total recipe costs and wastage using a restaurant compliance and efficiency software called Kitchen CUT; Farley practiced extensively with the program to maximize its use.)
With sustainability as the Olympiad’s theme, both chefs pledged to watch their overall impact. “Those of us in food-related industries must lead by example and promote sustainability through culinary education, apprenticeship programs, chefs associations, and our everyday practices. We as educators can help steer this bus of sustainability in the right direction and we must,” noted Chef Hienerwadel.
In an essay he submitted prior to competition, Farley outlined the first 4 of the United Nations’ Sustainability Goals as “high priority aims” where chefs can have a direct and substantial impact:
As an example, he mentioned the restaurant North (run by chef-owner James Mark ’08) gives nearly 2% of its profits to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. (Roughly 12% of the world’s population suffers from hunger, according to the Borgen Project, a global nonprofit dedicated to ending hunger.)
Ultimately, said Farley, “I am honored to be representing my school and my country when I say, ‘Let us all go and be heroes of local food.’”