First Annual Food Innovators Challenge Recap


The Conway Center partnered with Smith Dining/Catering to host the first annual Food Innovator’ Challenge as a way to highlight innovation and changes in the culinary landscape. Smith’s executive chef, Dino Giordano, and catering and dining manager, Meghan Garrity, to bring this new component of the Draper Competition to life. Chef Dino, tasked with developing the competition rules, selecting the protein, and mentoring the ches, says his primary goal for the competition was “fun, as well as providing an opportunity for the chefs to practice techniques they normally wouldn’t get to, and share ideas with one another.” He also wanted the chefs to be able to present food in a meaningful way, that meant something not only to those who were producing it but to those who were eating it “in a way that isn’t always present on campus.” Four local culinary experts were invited to judged the chefs on the basis of technique, innovative flavor pairings and amount of food waste generated in the creation of their dishes.

The competition, held on March 19, featured 4 brave Smith chefs -- German Alvarado, James Burbidge, Abigail Lappan and Scott White --  who had to prepare their meals in front of approximately 80 people in addition to the streaming community following the festivities on Facebook Live. We sat down with three of these chefs to discuss their experience. They all agreed that getting to do something new was their favorite part of the competition, and that getting to create their own recipes and menus to showcase to the campus was incredibly fun. Competition winner, Chef James, was excited that he got to learn the “subtleties of butchering” through the process, a topic in which he’s very interested. The element of collaboration between each other was an unexpected bonus, though they were competing against one another, bouncing ideas off each other and Chef Dino enhanced their pre-competition preparation. This isn’t to say that there weren’t challenges. Each express worries of fulfilling the right criteria, being able to balance a normal job on top of the prep required for the competition, and determining how to incorporate new ideas into their dishes. Chef German recounted that he just kept changing his dish, he “was inspired by everything!” and Chef Abigail stated, “I was changing things up until the moment of the competition.” Of course, for these chefs whose comfort zone is in the kitchen, having to cook in front of and for a crowd and judges was another big worry that caused pre-show jitters. No one wanted to rush their dishes, but all wanted their dishes to be perfect for the judges.

Food Innovators Challenge 2019 Winner, Chef James Burbidge!

Food Innovators Challenge 2019 Winner, Chef James Burbidge!

“Preparation was intense,” the group said, chuckling at how intense Chef Dino was throughout the process. He had set rules, chose both a specific protein -- lamb -- and an innovative, and somewhat intimidating, cooking technique -- sous vide.  Brainstorming, repeatedly testing out their menu and tweaking the recipes were absolute necessities. The chef’s inspirations for their menus came from their various cooking histories, most have been cooking for more than a decade, and with the winner having close to twenty years experience! Each hails from a different background with Chef James being trained through the experience of growing up in a kitchen, while Chef Abigail went to culinary school. Chef James revealed that his love of barbecue and Italian flavors were the prime reasons he chose to cook the menu he did, while Chef German was inspired by complimentary flavor profiles for lamb. Finally, we asked the chef’s what dish they most like to prepare:  Chef German loves Salvadoran food, specifically his mother’s pupusas and pozole, while Chef James can’t choose one specific dish, he said “anything to do with braising, burrata or fresh gnocchi” are his winners. Chef Abigail’s favorite is anything Mexican, always with as much spice as possible!

Chef James is looking forward to defending his title in the 2020 culinary challenge. His advice for future competitors: “you’ll have a lot of people making suggestions along the way. But stay true to yourself and the flavors/dishes you know you can do well.” We can’t wait to see what he and other chefs cook up next! In case you missed it, Chef James’s dish will be featured at the Draper Competition (link) on April 5. We invite you to join us for this campus-wide celebration of innovation and entrepreneurship.

The Conway Center and Smith Dining/Catering wish to extend a special thank you to all the people who helped make this event spectacular:


  • Stevie Schafenacker - Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA)

  • Wes Malzone- Berkshore Seafood

  • Jesse Hassinger - Belly of the Beast

  • Mary Reilly - Westfield State Dining Executive Chef

Catering: Chef TJ Lippie

Food Innovator Challenge Winner Chef James Burbidge shaking hands with the judges.

Food Innovator Challenge Winner Chef James Burbidge shaking hands with the judges.

Support Cooks:

  • Gina Bendinelli

  • Tasha Tauscher

  • Tom Rockett

  • Sarah Nolan

  • Kevin Doubleday

  • Cathy Kolosewicz

Dining Room Support:

  • Adam Lueb

  • Sandy Hennessy

  • Caitlin Dubois


  • Ellie Wolf

  • Sophie Hatcher Peters


  • Chad Lapinski

  • Carl Bak

  • Jennie Miller


  • John Clime

  • Rene Coderre


  • Andy Cox

  • Patty Hentz

  • Matt Cook

  • Patrick Diggins

  • Mary Barr

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