Pasta salad Washington State University
ALLERGY FRIENDLY: When mayo is made with pea powder instead of eggs, a dish like creamy pasta salad can become vegan.

Cutthroat Kitchen champ brings fresh perspective to college chefs

In a culinary demonstration and taste test, Chef Kaimana Chee updates existing menu items, pushes plant-forward options at Washington State University.

Having appeared on Alton Brown’s intense Food Network program “Cutthroat Kitchen,” Chef Kaimana Chee is used to pressure. But to a chef, there’s nothing quite like the pressure of cooking for other chefs.

“Cooking for your peers is always intimidating,” Chee says, referring to his recent visit to Washington State University (WSU), in Pullman. “But the great thing about cooking for chefs is that they understand what you’re going through, in a kitchen that’s not your own.” 

Washington State University

ALOHA CHEF: Kaimana Chee grew up in Hawaii, learned to cook on the East Coast, and rose to fame on shows like “Master Chef” and “Cutthroat Kitchen,” where he was the first chef ever to not be sabotaged by his teammates. He says it’s because he’s just “too nice.”

For the tasting event, Chee decided he would add some fun, fresh flavors to a number of popular dishes that are already on the menu at WSU, such as salmon medallions, pasta salad, club sandwiches, pasta salad, tuna tartare and fresh veggie crudité.

“I wanted to know what are some of the foods that they serve throughout the eateries on campus, things they already do,” Kaimana says, adding that because he also runs a Washington, D.C.-based catering company he know the demands of creating food in big volume, which is certainly the situation at WSU, with four dining halls and five retail operations around campus.

For example, the salmon dish Chee created has a quick prep time that could be quickly replicated for a lunch rush or busy dinner service.

“Salmon can often dry out, especially when you’re cooking that much volume,” Chee says. “So I coated the salmon in mayo and that keeps it moist. Then I took sweet mustard dressing and added furikake (a seasoned mixture of seaweed and sesame seeds). It takes only five minutes to prep. That goes into the oven for 15 minutes and gets finished with a sweet soy glaze.”

The umami powered, spicy-sweet salmon was the biggest hit of the whole tasting menu, and “all the chefs demolished the salmon,” Chee recalls.

For the tuna tartare, Chee used sesame oil, which he cautions using a light touch with, as it tends to overpower. With its lower smoke point, it’s used more as a drizzle at the end rather than a cooking oil.

And fresh veggies were highlighted with one of Chee’s signature tricks: creating a crudité “living garden” complete with “dirt” (made from puffed black rice) with baby carrots nestled inside and served in a plastic pot. 

“If I serve you veggies with dip you’ll forget it, but if you eat a living garden, that’s something you’ll remember,” he says. 

Chee’s upbringing in Hawaii definitely influences his cooking, and his catering business specializes in luau food and Asian fusion cuisine. In 2015 he competed at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI)’s Iron Chef Contest and won the title of the Smithsonian’s NMAI Native Chef of the Year.

“My background is Hawaiian, Filipino and Chinese,” Chee says, adding that he recently found out he also has English ancestors. “I grew up in a multicultural food landscape that was a hodgepodge of cooking styles and ingredients and techniques. That built me into the chef I am today.” 

The culinary team at WSU will be trying some of Chee’s recipes this upcoming semester, especially the salmon, pasta salad and tuna dishes. 

The tasting event was a result of the WSU dining program’s partnership with Hampton Creek. Chee is part of the company’s Culinary Concierge team.

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