International chefs can stand the heat: Venezuela wins

Zarefah Farraj-Ahmad, left, Ye-Jin Min, and Marlon Fiacco all competed in the “Rider Student Top Chef:  International Buffet” World Championship, where Fiacco took home first prize.
Zarefah Farraj-Ahmad, left, Ye-Jin Min, and Marlon Fiacco all competed in the “Rider Student Top Chef: International Buffet” World Championship, where Fiacco took home first prize.

By Alyssa Naimoli

Three Rider students brought their own ethnic recipes to Daly’s Dining Hall as they competed in “The Rider Student Top Chef: International Buffet World Championship,” sponsored by 107.7 The Bronc. The three finalists prepared and served their dishes to eager students in the hopes that their delicious recipes might earn them some votes.

On Nov. 13, students piled into Daly’s to join in on the excitement and taste the authentic global-inspired dishes that the finalists, senior finance major Marlon Fiacco, freshman international business major Ye-Jin Min and freshman biology major Zarefah Farraj-Ahmad, had to offer.

Fiacco, the winner of the competition, wowed students with his Venezuelan-inspired recipe, arepas with sweet plantains. His dish kept students coming back for seconds, with a line wrapping along the edge of his station in the center of Daly’s.

“The inspiration of my dish comes from the traditional staple of my country, Venezuela, the arepa filled with the most exquisite filling on earth, ‘the Reina Pepiada’ (chicken and avocado mix),” said Fiacco. “[It is] named after a famous Miss Venezuela pageant winner, who won Miss Universe and went back straight to Caracas to enjoy one of these delicacies.”

Fiacco used his knowledge of cuisine and his Venezuelan culture to put together a dish that satisfied students. He was grateful for the opportunity to “represent his background cuisine” in this competition and is “so appreciative of the people who support high-quality food and embrace the passion of the Latin American gastronomy.”

Fiacco feels that the competition is an effective way to expose students to cuisine from other cultures.

“This competition allows students to deliver their unknown skills through food, and propels understanding of the cultural diversity on campus reflected in traditional recipes of student’s backgrounds,” he said.

Ye-Jin Min also enjoyed her time in the competition as she brought her recipe, Korean fried chicken wings, to hundreds of hungry Rider students.

“Korean fried chicken in general has been going viral in America, and many people had tasted them,” said Min. “I thought it would be a common dish since people already tried them before.”

Being named a finalist in this competition has become a high point in Min’s freshman year at Rider. Min happily said “congratulations” to the winner and was thankful for the opportunity to compete.

Fiacco and Min were not the only ones who found satisfaction in the competition. The third finalist, Zarefah Farraj-Ahmad, also knew the competition would be a great experience when she first saw the flier.

Farraj-Ahmad prepared an authentic Middle Eastern dish, Arab Style Meat Pies, to serve the eager students at Daly’s for the competition.

Farraj-Ahmad has always enjoyed cooking and baking, and knew from the moment she saw the flier that she would participate in the competition. She knew the meat pies would be perfect for the competition and immediately began mixing up new spice combinations.

“I enjoy the freedom of incorporating exotic spices and cooking tasty dishes,“ said Farraj-Ahmad. “My favorite part of preparing any dish is mixing and choosing which spices to use.”

Farraj-Ahmad congratulated the winner and is thankful to have had the opportunity to make food and share the experience with the students and faculty.

The Rider Top Chef competition was once again a success as students lined up around the stations and made an effort to taste the authentic global dishes of their fellow students. Not only was the competition a fun and worthwhile experience for the students who tasted the dishes, but the prizes were an added bonus for the winner, Fiacco.

Fiacco walked away from the competition with first place and took home over $1,200 in cash and prizes, including an iPad Mini, Bronc Bucks, a Visa gift card and the opportunity to have his recipe as the “Special of the Month” at PJ’s Pancake House in Princeton and West Windsor.

The competition brought happiness and good food to hundreds of hungry students, while also giving an opportunity to Rider’s aspiring chefs.

“We have all accomplished the goal because the point is not who wins, but the effort and good will we put in order to deliver our culture through food and share it with the best community,” said Fiacco.


Printed in the 11/19/14 edition.

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