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Behind the Scenes: Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Competition

students working on their dishes in the kitchen

students working on their dishes in the kitchen

On Tuesday three students at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts competed for a chance to serve their own dish at tonight’s Atlanta Hawks game at RED, the full-service restaurant inside the Phillips Arena. Boiled down from a pool of 30 entries, the three finalists had one hour to prepare their dishes from start to finish and serve it for a panel of judges, including Sr. Sous Chef of RED William Cowley IV, and Chef Kyle Reynolds and other Le Cordon Bleu chefs. The winner, Paul Thai, created a salmon dish with beurre blanc, roasted asparagus and fingerling potatoes. Here we talked with the chefs about how they chose the winner, and Thai shared his thoughts.

You selected the final three students for this competition. What went into the decision?
Chef Kyle Reynolds: They go through a lot of emotions, and the most challenging part was the students being able to distinguish who the recipe is going to be used. They had to analyze logistics of the dish to make sure it fit with RED’s theme.


Thai's salmon dish

What distinguishes culinary school from cooking in a real restaurant?
Chef William Cowley IV: This career is like a circle because culinary school benefits you and you are spending your hard earned money, and then in a restaurant someone else is paying for your food so it is about them. The goal is to make a dish that takes people to a different place when they are eating.

Tasting notes on Thai’s dishes:

  • Add more sauce and acid and it will bring everything forward a little more.
  • I would definitely pay money for that.
  • Salmon had a rosy color in the middle, moist texture.
  • It was an attractive plate with the right amount of height and color contrast.

Paul Thai started at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts six months ago. He also began working at AJA in Buckhead two months ago.

Peter Thai, winner of the competition

Paul Thai, winner of the competition

How did you come up with the idea for this salmon dish?
One night the chef at AJA asked me create a special. Looking through our inventory, we had salmon and I had seen a chef demo at school for buerre blanc sauce, so I decided to combine the two for that night’s special. A few weeks later I heard about this competition, and my special had gotten positive feedback so I decided to try it out.

What was going through your mind?
I was nervous to see people walking around and taking pictures while I was cooking. As a Hawks fan, I really wanted to win this and have a chance to cook at the game.

You seemed pretty calm during the competition though.
In school and work, chefs are always making sure you keep your area clean when prepping and cooking. Mise en place is important and as long as you organize all your ingredients, it makes the execution easier.

Organization helped you in today’s competition because you had to think on your feet.
Yes, I was going to do a cucumber salad with the dish, but there weren’t any cucumbers so I had to think on the fly. I came up with a different side: roasted fingerling potatoes and asparagus.

What are you most nervous about when you go to cook in RED’s kitchen on Wednesday?
Since I am a visitor in the kitchen, I really want to fit in with everyone. I want to respect their stations and space.

What are your plans for the future?
I’d like to work under a good chef for a few years and then potentially open my own restaurant with cross-cultural cuisine.

Thai is well on his way to success. His salmon dish will be featured as the special on Wednesday, February 19th at the Atlanta Hawks game versus the Washington Wizards.

-By Alexa Lampasona for the Food & More blog

5 comments Add your comment


February 19th, 2014
11:55 pm

His name is Paul Thai… not Peter.

anthony nguyen

February 20th, 2014
12:20 am

I’m pretty sure his name was Paul Thai, not Peter.


February 20th, 2014
12:38 am

Where are the editors? Don’t you guys verifY your interviewee’s names? You guys did a whole interview and not once did anyone write down his CORRECT name on paper? It’s Paul, not Peter. Good job and congrats, Paul.

Alexa Lampasona

February 20th, 2014
11:44 am

That was my mistake. It is fixed, thank you for pointing it out!


February 20th, 2014
5:32 pm

Felicidades para el ganador desde Le Cordon Blueu de Miami