By Lexus Yamashiro | Staff Writer

For aspiring dietician Christian Rae Wong, she could not have been more proud and delighted to have won the King’s Hawaiian Product Development Competition, which took place on April 21 during the Spring 2017 semester at the 220 Grille in the ʻŌhia Cafeteria.

King’s Hawaiian, which is commonly known for its Hawaiian sweet rolls, hosted this competition for the first time at KCC as a way to help students in the culinary field experiment with local ingredients in order to create a product that represents Hawaiʻi. The competition required participating culinary students t0 develop an original salad dressing by using local flavors to produce a dry dressing mix packet with the incorporation of wet ingredients.

Wong, who is majoring in Nutrition and Dietetics, decided to enter after becoming aware of the competition through an advertisement on a bulletin board. Intrigued by the simplicity of this competition’s requirements, the idea of creating her own salad dressing that would promote a healthy conscious for consumers motivated her to apply.

After much consideration, Wong, along with five other culinary students were chosen by King’s Hawaiian to compete in the competition. With less than a month to prepare, Wong was mentored by culinary arts instructor Chef Jason Peel along with research chef and food scientist Dr. Lauren Tamamoto, who runs the Culinary Innovation Center on campus. The competition was directed under Tamamoto, who worked with each contestant in the processes of freeze drying ingredients to create the dry mix packets, as well as gaining an understanding of product development in manufacturing.

“Normally culinary students here, they make food service … but this one was more of a shelf-stable product,” Tamamoto said. “It’s a little bit more challenging [with] a little science involved in developing a product.”

Christian Rae Wong placed first amongst five other culinary students with her Ume Strawberry Guava Vinaigrette. (Photo courtesy of the Culinary Arts program)

The process of freeze drying ingredients along with determining how fine she wanted her ingredients grounded were skills that Wong did not often practice. However, it provided her insight as to how much more there is to culinary techniques for items such as salad dressings.

As the weeks went by, Wong narrowed down to three ideas of a possible salad dressing that she would present during the competition and came to decide on an Ume Strawberry Guava Vinaigrette. She drew inspiration from her grandmother, who had always kept ume in her refrigerator and fresh fruits on the table.

“It was just me thinking ‘If King’s Hawaiian distributes a salad dressing to Hawaiʻi, specifically, what is our demographic?'” Wong said. “You don’t see a lot of ume integrated into any cooking other than Japanese musubi’s … so I thought that’d be kind of cool to integrate that into the next generation.”

When it came time for the competition, the contestants were given approximately 10 minutes to produce their salad dressing through a live demonstration in front of an audience and five judges, two of whom represented King’s Hawaiian, a representative from the Department of Agriculture, and two chefs who are KCC alumni. At the beginning of her presentation, Wong admitted that she found it challenging in terms of having to determine what route she would take in creating her dressing. However, she was put at ease since she enjoyed the interactions that she got to experience with the audience.

Based on the flavors, local ingredients used, presentation, and appearance of the salads, Wong took the win with her original vinaigrette and was awarded with a monetary prize of $1,500, along with a paid summer internship at King’s Hawaiian headquarters in Torrance, Ca. Wong will be traveling to California for a month about a week after she comes back from the American Culinary Federation’s national competition, and has even begun working with King’s Hawaiian on island to discuss her process in developing her salad dressing. During her time at the headquarters, Wong will also have the chance to visit the different departments and learn about its business.

King’s Hawaiian also provided Wong, including runner-ups Cindy Nakabayashi and Jolynn Len, the option of having their salad dressings manufactured and put on the company’s online retail site.

From this competition, Wong had gained a deeper understanding of how items as simple as salad dressings are taken for granted and not considered for its process in being produced. She realizes that many food items can be taken to the next step, which is what she hopes to experiment with as she works toward becoming a registered dietician.

“I would like to integrate my culinary background, but also the nutritional side of things,” Wong said. “I want to do something like that where I come up with something and really integrate it to be the healthiest version it can be while still tasting good.”