GWINNETT - Competition is said to be fierce at the annual Maple Leaf Farms Annual Discover Duck Recipe Contest, but Gwinnett Tech Culinary Arts graduate and Executive Sous Chef Eljesa Haxhiu was a bold competitor who earned the coveted Grand Prize.
The 2016 contest attracted a record 285 entries, challenging culinary professionals to create "IntroDUCKtions" or original appetizers or first course dishes featuring Maple Leaf Farms duck products. This year's contest pushed contestants to broaden their thinking beyond duck as a main course meal, and create duck applications that fit into a local bistro, a brew pub or on a tasting menu. Recipes were judged on flavor, creativity and originality, as well as accuracy of recipe and methodology.
Professional chefs and culinary students from various foodservice business segments, including restaurants, catering, college/university, healthcare and education, competed aggressively for the prize money. Chef Haxhiu’s winning recipe for Mole Duck Taco with Puffed Rice, Avocado Cilantro Puree, Pineapple Radish Salsa and Cotija earned her a generous $10,000 cash award.
- But this wasn't Haxhiu's first submission to the competition. In 2014 Haxhiu competed in the contest's student division and won the top prize for her Citrus Seared Duck Breast with Herb Goat Cheese. That win earned her $2,500 and Gwinnett Tech's Culinary Program $1,000 in Maple Leaf Farms duck products. Chef Haxhiu is the first and only competitor to win both in the student and professional divisions.
When asked how it feels to win this time, Haxhiu replied, "It feels good to win the professional category because when I was a student, I was told that my student recipe could have won the professional category then, but since I was a student that wasn't possible. That's why I had to try again." She continued, "It was a great feeling to win this time under the professional category, but very nerve racking. I first got the call that I was a top five finalist, then a week later learned I was the overall winner. It was such an awesome moment!"
Cooking was an important part of Haxhiu’s childhood. Being from Kosovo, it was tradition to prepare and share large meals with extended family. While a culinary student at Gwinnett Tech she gained experience as an intern at Five & Ten in Athens, where she studied under Chef Jason Zygmont. It was that internship that fueled her passion for food and affirmed her commitment to a culinary career. Today, Chef Haxhiu works at Gwinnett Technical College under her mentor, Chef Kerri Crean. When asked what it is like to come back and work on campus, she replied, "Chef Crean has been a great mentor to me. Honestly, she's a wonderful teacher, but having the opportunity to come back and work alongside her is a blessing. I still learn so much everyday. It's nice to have someone that believes in me and encourages me to push myself to be better all the time."
Maple Leaf Farms, Inc. is America's leading producer of quality duck products, supplying retail and foodservice markets throughout the world with innovative, value-added foods. Founded in 1958, Maple Leaf Farms is a fourth-generation family-owned company located in Leesburg, Indiana. Maple Leaf Farms' website currently features a spotlight of Chef Haxhiu that states Haxhiu's accomplishments are a result of her willingness to challenge herself to discover the intricacies of ingredients and expand her culinary repertoire.
Food lovers are encouraged to explore the 2016 prizewinning duck recipes at www.mapleleaffarms.com/chefcontest. Aspiring chefs can learn more about Gwinnett Tech's Culinary Arts program at GwinnettTech.edu or call 770-962-7580
December 22, 2016