CWU News

CWU Campus Sous Chef to Compete at Pacific Regional Contest

For the second year in a row, Central Washington University will be represented at the National Association of College & University Food Services (NACUFS) Culinary Challenge.

Campus Sous Chef Jack Mazzacavallo and seven others from the Pacific region were selected from a pool of applicants this winter to compete at the March 22-24 regional competition in Colorado Springs, Colo. If Mazzacavallo prevails, he will move on to the 2020 National Culinary Challenge in Atlanta from July 8-11.

“Jack is an organized and meticulous culinarian whose skill set ties in well with this competition,” said Dean Masuccio, director of CWU Dining Services. “We’re very proud to have someone from CWU selected two years in a row, and we believe that recognition will bring added value to the student experience here.”

CWU Catering Chef Darren Macri represented the university at last year’s NACUFS Pacific Regional in Spokane, earning a bronze medal. Scoring for the contest is based on a gold-silver-bronze system, but competitors are not guaranteed a medal.

Mazzacavallo said he is honored to be competing on behalf of CWU, but he’s also looking forward to developing new skills and building his professional network. 

“I’m excited to meet some other college and university chefs, and gain some perspective on their approaches to everything the job entails,” said Mazzacavallo, who joined CWU Dining Services last summer after working at a number of high-end restaurants in Seattle, including Marché, The Four Seasons, and Matt’s in the Market. 

“But it’s also nice to bring some attention to the program we’re building here at Central,” he added. “I’m happy to be a part of it.”

The required ingredients for this year’s challenge — determined by the NACUFS Culinary Chair — are Cornish game hen and beluga (black) lentils, but the rest of the creation is left up to the individual chefs’ creativity.

Mazzacavallo will prepare the hen by making a mousse with the dark meat, stuffing it between the breasts, and then rolling them in caul fat and pan-roasting them. The mousse will be heavily seasoned with Ras el Hanout, an aromatic North African spice blend, while the lentils will be soaked, pureed, formed into shapes, and deep fried, so they resemble falafel. The hen and falafel will be accompanied by a cucumber and herb salad, along with a sweet and sour sauce with dried apricots and cherries.

“I believe the use of lentils as falafel will be unique, and I’m hoping the Mediterranean profile will be as well,” he said. “The use of the mousse and caul with the hens will showcase some classic technique for the judges, and the way it is seasoned will complement the falafel.”

Mazzacavallo first started working on his entry last fall with Joe Ritchie, CWU’s campus executive chef. They completed a few practice runs with the initial recipe, making sure it could be completed in the allotted time, and then tried some different plating techniques. They submitted the recipe, along with photos, to the selection committee in November and learned of Mazzacavallo’s selection earlier this month.

Ritchie said he served only in an advisory role, leaving all of the big decisions up to Mazzacavallo.

“This was all Jack,” he said. “He’s an extremely talented person, and we would have been surprised if he wasn’t selected.”

Whether Mazzacavallo advances to the National Culinary Challenge remains to be seen. But no matter what comes out of this experience, the CWU Dining Services name will be included among exclusive company once again.

“For us, this is much more than a culinary competition,” Masuccio said. “Having one of our chefs selected two years in a row adds to our legitimacy around the country. But this is also a great opportunity for professional development that Jack can share with our team.”

“Seeing Jack get selected is very gratifying for us,” Ritchie added. “He’s a very qualified competitor and we think he’s going to do very well.”


Media contact: David Leder, Department of Public Affairs, 509-963-1518,