MTSU Chef Whips Up Award-winning Dish for Regional Culinary Competition

Apr 11, 2024 at 06:14 pm by WGNS News

Aramark Collegiate Hospitality Services Chef Mike Wojciechowski

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Middle Tennessee State University chef Mike Wojciechowski has combined his passion for cooking with his penchant for competition to create an award-winning combination.

Wojciechowski — who oversees McCallie Dining Hall inside Keathley University Center and Farmers Market Dining Hall inside the Student Union on campus — recently garnered third place in the regional collegiate Aramark Culinary Excellence Competition, or ACE.


In early March, the residential food services director faced off against eight other chefs at the competition held at Berry College in Mount Berry, Georgia.

“We’re so lucky to have him at MTSU,” said Rachel Hunter, marketing manager for Aramark Collegiate Hospitality Services, which operates the dining facilities on the MTSU campus.

In addition to day-to-day dining operations, Wojciechowski likes to experiment with cooking.

“I’ve always been a student of cooking and developed a passion for it,” Wojciechowski said. “I’m always open to learning new ways of doing things.”

This year is the first year Wojciechowski has participated in the competition, held annually to showcase talent from all segments of the company’s corporate dining facilities across the country.

MTSU chef a tough competitor - The St. Louis native is not new to the kitchen. He started his 25-year food-service career tossing pizzas at Noble Romans, an award-winning regionally known craft pizza restaurant.

He then moved into corporate dining and spent most of his career in upscale senior living campuses, where he trained under a certified executive chef.

After meeting his wife at a Nashville Predators game in 2009, he moved to Middle Tennessee to be with her. Six years ago, he transitioned to collegiate hospitality at MTSU.

Wojciechowski spends much of his free time training for Spartan Race extreme obstacle courses where athletes might slog through mud, climb wooden platforms and contend with heavy objects.

Just like the Spartan Races, Wojciechowski trained and honed his skills for the kitchen competition.

“It also taught me how to overcome any obstacles that get in the way,” Wojciechowski said.

But first, he had to plan.

Taking a bite out of challenges - Chefs were given parameters to follow ahead of time. The first main requirement was devising a meal that utilized a whole chicken.

Wojciechowski’s rich German heritage inspired his menu of chicken schnitzel, German potato salad and a quick sauerkraut. Schnitzel, a very common dish in German fare, is a thin slice of meat that is tenderized and breaded.

Early on, he encountered a few challenges in his preparations. The first was timing and the second was uniformity.

“I had to complete the dish in 60 minutes, then I had 10 minutes to plate it. We had to make four identical plates for judges,” Wojciechowski explained. “At first, I took a lot of notes. I had to be scientific about what I was doing … to produce a winning dish.”

The contest required competitors to use a “common pantry” that limited ingredients. And one of the main items he needed for the schnitzel wasn’t on the list. So he had to be creative.

“I think the biggest challenge that I had was coming up with the crispy outside breading for the schnitzel recipe that traditionally uses panko breading,” Wojciechowski explained. “But the panko wasn’t available to me. So what I did was fry the chicken skin and chopped it coarsely to create that panko breading-style texture when I cooked it in my skillet.”

Over the course of the semester, Wojciechowski cooked his meal a half-dozen times beforehand.

To get used to cooking in front of a crowd in a makeshift kitchen, his practice runs were prepared in front of everyone coming in and out of the cafeteria.

Although he didn’t take top prize, he brought back the bronze as he returned to continue his duties at MTSU.

And while he’s already planning for next year’s competition, he might also add his award-winning meal to the menu at McCallie.

“There’s always room for something like this on our menu,” Wojciechowski said.

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