CCEE student takes gold in culinary competition

The Global Training Initiative and NC State Dining hosted the university’s inaugural Culinary World Cup this fall. Student chefs sharpened their knives — and their cooking skills — to showcase their mastery of international dishes.

Students competed in cross-cultural teams cooking in the state-of-the-art teaching kitchen in the Carmichael Gym. The final two teams competed in a live-streamed head-to-head competition on November 9.

The winning team included CCEE student Roopa Velraja, who is an environmental engineering major. Her teammates were NC State students Menna Elsayed and Cate Hawting. The winning team will have their recipe featured in one of the campus dining halls.

Each team’s dish(es) were scored on taste, creativity and visual appeal, with guest judges, including professional chefs, coming from across the campus community.

“Part of the challenge for this competition was working in cross-cultural, multicultural teams to learn from each other and about one another’s culture,” said Madison Sinclair, international programs specialist. “Applicants signed up as individuals, and were then placed on a team. It was amazing to see how everyone worked together to achieve tasty results.”

After the finals, Velraja was interviewed about the competition, what she learned and advice for budding chefs.

How did you develop a love for cooking?

I grew up cooking a lot with my mother – my dad has diabetes so my mom would try out many different recipes and cuisines in order to make food that would fit his diet. I used to help cook and taste her new recipes, and this gave me experience in figuring out how to “fix” food in case something went wrong.

Why did you decide to enter the competition?

One of my friends entered the competition and invited me to join as well! We had hoped to be placed on the same team, but ended up being on different ones. I was skeptical at first, but after the first round I realized how much I enjoyed cooking with others and trying new recipes.

How did you develop your recipe?

Menna had a great idea to make a sauce for pasta using feta and then adding mushrooms on top to give a meaty effect. I love cooking with mushrooms, as they are my favorite vegetable, so I offered to take over that part. I used my go-to spices, garlic and onion, and broiled them with the mushrooms in order to get a flavorful addition to our pasta.

What does it feel like to win the inaugural competition?

I honestly still can’t believe it! I had no clue this was an inaugural competition, but I am absolutely thrilled to have won it. It had always been my dream since I was a little child to participate in an “official” cooking competition, and I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to do that here at NC State.

Do you have any advice for amateur chefs out there?

Practice! Trying new recipes and struggling through them is the best way to become a better cook. Following steps can be a good start, but trying to use your own intuition and skills when cooking will help you find what works and what doesn’t.

I am a first-generation Indian-American student of Tamil descent. My favorite dish to cook and eat is fried rice, as I enjoy mixing different cuisines and ingredients to add variety to the dish. I usually make fried rice with Indo-Chinese, Korean, and Indian elements to create a dish that is new and exciting!


This story first appeared in NC State Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost News.