We at TastyKFood conducted an interview with the First and the Second Prize winner of the 'Korean Sensation Culinary Contest,' Stephen Neumann and Elizabeth Aristeguieta. We quizzed them about the 'Prize Cuisine' that got them awarded at the contest, their passion for food, what their goals and plans are in life and much more.
Stephen Neumann, the First Prize winner of the 'Korean Sensation Culinary Contest' is presently a culinary student at CIA Greystone and the Second Prize winner was awarded to Ms. Elizabeth Aristeguieta, a culinary student from CIA, San Antonio. Stephen's Korean-inspired cuisine which landed him the top place at the competition is called Yangchigi Pie/Pâté Coréen, which means in English; Shepherd's Pie. He states that the dish inspired and somewhat based from something he grew up eating during his childhood.
Elizabeth's pork cuisine has a quirky Korean title, ‘Mah-Sit-SSo-Yo, Pork - It’s delicious, Pork’ cuisine, that consists of the Korean ingredients, Barley tea, Yuja tea and Gochujang, which were the three lucky components that made Elizabeth a close runner-up at this Korean culinary competition.
Please take the time to read the interview; this is not just about Stephen and Elizabeth's passion for creating food, but you can also read more about how they were inspired to create unique and delicious Korean-inspired cuisine by using traditional Korean ingredients and products at the contest.
Please tell us about yourself, what your aspirations are and etc...
Stephen: My name is Stephen Neumann and I am a career-changing Canadian, attending the CIA to pursue a longtime dream. My love for food began with an open-minded approach to eating that was taught to me by my mom. She encouraged me to try anything and everything. The drive that led me to study culinary arts is a result of having worked at a restaurant while attending university. Nothing beats the high-energy intensity of a professional kitchen. At the moment, I am dedicated to trying to learn as much as I can in order to exceed my own expectations as a cook.
Elizabeth: I’m 55 years old and currently fulfilling my dream of attending culinary school. It’s something that I have wanted to do for a very long time. I love meeting new people from all over the world and I’m looking forward to learning different the cuisines from around the globe. I want to sail around the world and write a cookbook based on the people I meet in the ports I visit. I want to meet up with a family in the ports I visit and have the family cook a meal with me that means something to them. Either a childhood memory or a festivity. Then I want them to share the story of what that meal means to them. My cookbook would include the recipes and the stories that go with them along with the pictures of the families that shared their stories with me. I want to show the world how truly similar we all are and that we just live on different real estate.
Could you explain why you chose to use those Korean ingredients at the competition?
Stephen: My idea for the dish I prepared (Yangchigi Pie/Pâté Coréen) is based on the food I ate as a child. I figured that the best way to introduce new Korean flavors to the North American palate was to introduce them in the comfort foods we grew up with. In my home, that was Pâté Chinois (Shepherd's Pie). With a few alterations, it actually seemed quite natural to introduce Kimchi and Bulgogi sauce to the mix.
Elizabeth: I chose the barley tea and the citron Yuja tea for the pork because I felt they would bring a depth of warmth and smokiness to the pork. For the BBQ sauce, I chose to use the citron Yuja tea and the Gochujang along with other typical Korean ingredients like soy sauce, ginger and garlic to show that using non-traditional American BBQ ingredients could result in that warm tangy comfort food we love but with a twist in flavor that is equally delicious.
What kind of food or ingredients inspired you the most to select what to use for your cuisine?
Stephen: The inspiration for my dish stems from a very specific food memory I have from my time spent in Korea. I love it when certain foods are eaten together harmonize and elevate the experience as a whole. This is what happened the first time I tried having kimchi with fresh roasted sweet potato. I wanted to try to expose others to that same pleasure with my dish.
Elizabeth: I loved the citron Yuja tea for its sweetness and tartness wrapped in one. It’s something I definitely plan to use in future recipes. I also loved the barley tea as well. It was comforting and bold. As is the Gochujang, I love spicy food so there was no way I wasn’t using the Gochujang.
Tell us about the judges' commentary and how were they impressed about your dish?
Stephen: Being judged by such capable and accomplished chefs and food experts was exciting to say the least. Of course, the criticism sticks out the most, but I cherish what I learned from the judges, including the potential for fennel seed to dominate and overwhelm a dish. I also appreciated the acknowledgment that this was a very personal dish for me and that a lot of ‘me’ went into it. I cannot say that any one of the judges impressed me more than the others. As to the judges, I have great respect and admiration for them all and it was an honour to have them try my food and give me feedback on it.
Elizabeth: I was so proud when all the three judges interviewed told me that my pork was cooked perfectly. After flavor, achieving juiciness was one of my top goals for preparing the pork chops. When Marja Vongerichten said, “Wow” I was smiling from ear to ear. It was my favorite compliment of the day!
I was impressed by all of the judges. They are all leaders in the food industry and very well respected.
Did you experience any difficulties while using Korean ingredients?
Stephen: With regard to the ingredients I had to work with, the Kimchi, as mentioned earlier was a natural fit, but I did have just a bit of difficulty working the Bulgogi sauce into the dish due to its sweetness. The answer for me was to treat the ground lamb meat a bit more like I would bulk sausages and then decided to introduce red pepper flakes and fennel seed to cut through it a bit.
Elizabeth: I thought all of the ingredients I used were extremely easy to work with and I had absolutely no issues with any of them. They will all be pantry staples for me from now on. I am grateful to have been introduced to the tea in particular. I had never tried either one before I became aware of them for this competition.
What are your dreams or goals for the future?
Stephen: This was an incredible event and has added to the already surreal journey that I find myself on. My goals for now are to excel in my studies and learn from every moment and opportunity that comes my way. I hope to continue learning and improving in order to one day use all that I have gained and share the fruits of my labor.
Elizabeth: My goal is to complete my culinary education with the Culinary Institute of America. As part of this education, I am looking forward to my externship, where I will get some real kitchen experience and learn from successful chefs in the industry. After I graduate, I want to continue to learn from a chef or chefs preferably with an international repertoire to better help me when I set off to sail around the world and write my ultimate cookbook. I look forward to learning about many other ingredients I have never worked with before or may have never heard of before.
Congratulations to the both of you! Thank you for taking your precious time to take this interview. We wish you both the very best in everything you do.
A version of this article by Jc.Chung at TastyKFood. Photo by Benjamin Lee.