JWU Earns a Global Win at the Young Chef Olympiad

Imagine flying halfway around the world to participate in a global cooking competition. Chantelle Gonsalves '23 had never been out of the United States when she and her chef-mentor, Associate Professor Jeremy Houghton '93, '17 MBA, headed to India for the Young Chef Olympiad, an intense culinary showdown featuring contestants from nearly 60 countries. Months of preparation paid off when she placed 5th — a Top 10 showing and a great victory for JWU.

Young Chef Olympiad contestant Chantelle Gonsalves (left) and chef-mentor Jeremy Houghton (right) flank a promotional standee for Team USA.For Gonsalves, it was an incredible adventure. Although she and Houghton had trained heavily before leaving Providence, there was no way to know what awaited them once they arrived at their host campus at the Institute of Hotel Management (IIHM).

But what they discovered was a true sense of culinary camaraderie, explained Gonsalves: “It was really a great opportunity for a bunch of kids our age with all the same passion for culinary arts to come to this one center and compete. A lot of times, the competition didn’t even feel like a competition. It was like one big hangout, honestly, for the mentors and students — with the competition on the side.”

Traveling, meeting so many new people, and getting up to speed on the details of the competition are a lot to absorb. But everyone else was going through the same destabilizing experience.

“We were all very nervous, and it was how we were all able to connect. We were all on the same playing field,” explained Gonsalves. “Eventually, it just became a good fun time.”

“Any time you get an opportunity like this, it will always build you up.”

The competition consisted of multiple rounds that included a certain number of set recipes and a finite number of ingredients. “And then we were given the creativity to make our own dish with guidelines of a list of ingredients in certain amounts. … If you didn’t make it to the final round, they had a mystery basket challenge for everyone who didn’t make it to that one.”

Competition dishes included

  • a lemon meringue tart
  • a vegetarian dish
  • a king prawn dish paired with a classic apple tarte tatin for the final round

Although Gonsalves felt well prepared by the months of training at JWU, she still got rattled once the clock was ticking: “Because you’re put in this room with 9 other competitors — of course want to look around and see what anybody else is doing. Are you doing too little? Are you doing too much? You can hear and feel the intensity. So, for me, the hardest part was making sure I didn’t look around, get into my head, and lose track of time.” And then there were the Celsius ovens: “The second I looked over at that oven and I saw Celsius, it was all just by feel after that one. There’s no way of checking to know!”

Chantelle Gonsalves Being Presented with the Top 10 Plaque at the Young Chef Olympiad.For his part, her chef-mentor Houghton is incredibly proud: “I’ll tell this story, and she’s probably going to get embarrassed. We’re sitting with all 53 competitors at the big around-the-world dinner where they are announcing the top 10 people. Her good friend, Michelle from New Zealand, got first pick. And you could just see the relief in Chantelle’s face like, ‘Oh, I’m glad I didn’t make it to the top 10 because, oh, I don’t even know. I didn’t really worry about that tarte tatin too much.’ And all of a sudden, they announced the United States — and the look on her face! She was quite shocked, as was I.” He added, “I don’t have kids, so it was a very proud moment.”

Houghton was also impressed by Gonsalves’ graciousness and humility through the press frenzy that followed. “She deserves a lot of props. Everybody wants to have a photograph with an American — a lot of them have never met somebody from the United States before. So her fame has grown over in that part of the world, I’m sure. She took a picture with every person that asked and smiled every time and represented Johnson & Wales more than I could have asked any other student to do.”

Houghton loved the “global feeling” forged by the competition. “I have 50-odd new mentor friends — you know, some new people over in India that you made a connection with. It just helps to know that we’re part of something bigger. One of the cool things now is all the competitors are going to get together again, and all fly somewhere to hang out again, as they did there!”

As for how the competition has stoked her passion for the culinary field, Gonsalves said: “Any time you get an opportunity like this, it will always build you up. Even if you didn’t do well in the competition, either way, it’s still going to help you build social skills, and networking skills — especially when you’re surrounded by 52 other competitors your age who all have the same passion. It definitely continues to drive you.”

Listen to the “This Week at JWU” podcast that serves as the source material for this article below:

Meet the Future Food All-Stars
JWU Alum Wins Food Network Competition


Press conference to announce the Young Chef Olympiad Top Ten.