Top Chef: Elon hosts 2023 Aramark Culinary Excellence competition

Brandon Rudisill, executive chef with Harvest Table at Elon University, placed third in the competition.

Before his start time for the Aramark Culinary Excellence (ACE) Competition, Elon’s Harvest Table Executive Chef Brandon Rudisill stood in front of his station anxiously awaiting to prepare the dish he’d be practicing for weeks.

Rudisill, Executive Chef for Harvest Table at Elon University, competes in the ACE chef competition held in the kitchen of Lakeside Dining Hall on March 1, 2023.

As the competition got underway, the nerves subsided and made room for more familiar and comfortable feelings — adrenaline and nostalgia.

“I think that most chefs and a lot of people that are long-timers in the hospitality business tend to crave that adrenaline rush,” Rudisill said. “And when it comes to food nostalgia plays a lot into the way I cook. The smells, the sounds. Treat food with respect was always taught to me.”

Elon’s Lakeside Dining Hall hosted this year’s competition on Wednesday, March 1, with chefs from Elon, High Point University, Springfield College, the University of Redlands, the University of Rochester and Wake Forest University competing for the title. Rudisill placed third in this year’s six-chef competition and won the competition several years ago.

The only rule the chefs had to follow was that the main protein had to be chicken. Rudisill made a chicken ballotine which, from a competition standpoint, displayed a lot of skill with butchery and whole-animal utilization.

Food insecurity in America has been dangerously inflated since the COVID-19 pandemic, and with more than 30% of the food supply in America going to waste, Elon Dining and Harvest Table have been intentional about cutting down on waste and getting the most out of each animal it serves.

Rudisill presented this dish of chicken ballotine to judges in the ACE Competition.

“The more people we can get thinking that way, the better off we’re all going to be from a longevity standpoint on this planet,” Rudisill said.

Rudisill said that while there is a healthy conflict for wanting to be crowned the best, the opportunity to engage with other chefs and share ideas on how to make the most of the products they use is what makes competitions like the ACE significant.

“When you speak to someone that is as passionate as they can be about what they do, … that reinvigorates you,” he said. “It brings you back into a passionate realm of things because you’re surrounding yourself with people that have like-minded goals.”