Arkansas State Parks Top Chef Competition

Arkansas State Park chefs will partner with Pulaski Technical College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute to compete in a Top Chef competition on Thursday, February 21, 2019. Each team will be judged on their entrée to earn the title of Arkansas State Park’s Top Chef.  There will also be a People’s Choice Award. 

“It was an idea we thought of a few years ago to highlight the fact that we have some really good restaurants in state parks,” said State Parks Director Grady Spann. “There are eight restaurants that serve our public during the season or year round. This is a healthy competition as well as a team building opportunity.”  

There will be two parts to the competition: the traditional judging and the judging from peers and fellow conference attendees.  Contestants will need to be prepared to share sample sized versions of their entrée and dessert to accommodate 40 attendees.  Participants will also need to consider how the items will be displayed on their park’s table and come prepared to enhance the presentation. 

The surprise component of the competition will be the creation of a new entrée and sides that each restaurant does not currently have on its menu, but is considering adding it as a selection.


Teams will consist of a “Chef” and “Sous Chef” from each park.  Teams will be decided between the restaurant managers and park superintendents.  The Ozark Folk Center has won back to back competitions.

 “Winning two State Park Top Chef competitions in a row was thrilling,” said Ozark Folk Center Skillet Restaurant Manager Jessica  Sterlin “Not only was a great team building experience, it also  meant that we got to proudly showcase Arkansas’s diversity and opportunities for locally produced foods.”


The judges will consist of State Parks, Recreation and Travel Commissioners, a chef from Pulaski Tech and representatives from agencies that work with the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. Below are the criteria upon which competitors will be judged.




Taste and Temperature

Overall taste of ingredients and appropriate temperature of dish

Minimum Points – 1

Maximum Points - 5


Appearance and plating

Minimum Points – 1

Maximum Points - 5

Team work

Work habits, techniques, safety

Minimum Points – 1

Maximum Points - 5


Development of dish and use of the “Arkansas Ingredient”

Minimum Points – 1

Maximum Points - 5



clean and neat working habits and work station

Minimum Points – 1

Maximum Points - 5


General Guidelines: teams will prepare four (4) plated meals.

 • Sauces must be produced during the competition.

• Any dressings are to be prepared during the competition.

• Teams must leave the workstation in a neat and tidy condition; this is part of the judging criteria.

Sequence of Events:



11:15 a.m.

Facility and pantry tour for contestants                                                               Briefing for judges

11:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m.                 (15 minute staggered entrée delivery times)

Preparation and Cooking Time

Each team will prepare four identical plates to present to the judges (smaller portions are appreciated to reduce waste)

1:00 p.m. – 2:15 p.m.


Presentation of Dish and Judging

Note:  Dish must be presented on scheduled time to avoid point deduction in the Team Work category.

2:15 p.m.

Declaration of Winner

About Arkansas State Parks

Arkansas state parks and museums cover 54,400 acres of forest, wetlands, fish and wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation facilities and unique historic and cultural resources. The system includes 1,100 buildings (including 183 historic structures), six National Historic Landmarks, a National Natural Landmark and 16 sites on the National Register of Historic Places.

The state parks have 1,800 camp sites, 1,050 picnic sites, 208 cabins, five lodges, and 415 miles of trails. Eight million visitors annually come from all regions of the country. Park staffs provide over 42,000 education programs, activities and special events to more than 700,000 participants each year.

Established in 1923, Arkansas State Parks preserve special places for future generations, provide quality recreation and education opportunities, enhance the state’s economy through tourism, and provide leadership in resource conservation.