UCR Chef Robert Grider Wins Gold Medal at Regional Culinary Challenge

Lothian Residential Restaurant manager finishes second overall with his Panang Lobster Curry dish

Chef Robert Grider, culinary manager of the Lothian Residential Restaurants.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Chef Robert Grider, senior culinary operations manager of the Lothian Residential Restaurant at the University of California, Riverside, can proudly call himself one of the best collegiate chefs in the west. And he has a gold medal to prove it.

Grider’s Panang Lobster Curry (recipe below) won him an American Culinary Federation (ACF) Gold medal at the National Association of College and University Food Services Pacific Regional Culinary Challenge at their annual conference at the Radisson Hotel in Los Angeles on April 4. He placed second overall, earning a $250 cash prize, and placed just behind overall winner Ed Glebus of San Diego State University. The pair were the only competitors to finish between 36 and 40 points, earning the ACF gold medal.

The competition pitted 12 top chefs from the Pacific region, including two from Mexico and 2014 national winner Bryce Bennes of Orange Coast College. The chefs were each given two live Maine lobsters and they had just one hour to cook four portions of an original, nutritionally balanced hot entrée, with side dishes and sauces.

“My dish merged Thai and Indian cuisines,” Grider said. “To celebrate UC Riverside’s citrus history, I incorporated three different varietals of lime in the dish to really highlight the taste of the lobster.”

chef cooking

Chef Robert Grider is watched by a panel of judges as he prepares his Panang Lobster Curry. Photo by Cheryl Garner

Chefs were critiqued in a variety of categories, including creativity, serving and portion size, flavor, presentation, nutritional balance, sanitation and work habits.

“His dish was absolutely wonderful. I ate the show plate,” said challenge organizer Eric Ernest of USC, despite the fact that the dish was then cold.

Grider, who has been at UC Riverside for nearly six years, earned the right to represent UCR at the event by beating out fellow UCR chefs Charles Johnson, culinary manager at A&I Residential Restaurants and Reuben Herrington, food service manager for UCR Catering, at an on-campus contest last summer.  After the win, Grider worked with Executive Chef Lanette Dickerson to perfect his dishes, going through “about 14 different variations” of the dish in preparation for the contest.

“Lanette worked with me to help me understand what the judges would be looking for and how we could get the dish where it needed to be,” Grider said, adding that the duo also visited the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, California. “UC Riverside has afforded me unbelievable opportunities to advance my career as a chef and culinarian.”

judges doing a tasting

The judges sample Grider’s Panang Lobster Curry. Photo by Cheryl Garner

“For Robert to win second place with a gold medal both honors and validates his culinary craft,” Dickerson said. “As members of our local Inland Empire American Culinary Federation, we strive as professional chefs to continue our culinary education and develop our skills and to keep up with changes and trends in the culinary industry and the dining culture at universities. I don’t know of any better evidence of this constant effort for improvement than being able to say ‘We have a gold medal-winning chef operating one of our dining halls at UCR’”.

“Robert did well by keeping an eye on the fundamentals of cooking techniques and sanitation, but also by cooking the main ingredient better than the rest of the group,” said Executive Director Of Dining, Catering & Conference Services Cheryl Garner. “Lobster can get get tough or mushy, so Robert needed to use this as an opportunity to learn as much as he could about the texture/grain of the meat, how it reacts to heat at specific times, etc.”

While he was thrilled with his gold-medal-performance, Grider said he came away from the event with a greater appreciation for what UCR Dining Services produces.

“What I took away is that our campus is every bit as good as any other university out there, anybody in our region,” he said.  “Our department has unbelievably high standards — we strive to provide the students and our guests with the best possible culinary experience that we can.”

Recipe for Chef Robert Grider’s
Panang Lobster Curry

Editor’s note (4/9/14): By request, Chef Grider has graciously shared his winning recipe.

Lobster Panang:
  • First-Press Olive Oil .75 G
  • 2lb- 2 1/2lb Live Lobster 2 each
  • Curry Paste (Recipe Follows) 1.5 oz
  • Aji-Mirin 4 oz
  • Lobster Stock (Recipe Follows) 14 oz
  • Kaffir Lime Leaves 6 each
  • Coconut Milk 1Qt & 6 oz
  • Sugar 3 T
  • Mayonnaise 4 T
  • Sriracha Chili Sauce 1 T & 1t
  • Japanese Bread Crumbs 1.5 C
  • Whole Lime 1 each
  • Freshly Shucked English Peas 15 each
  • Fingerling Potatoes (Bias cut) 5 oz
  • Bamboo Shoots 3 oz
  • Brown Shimeji Mushrooms 2 oz
  • Maitake Mushrooms 2 oz
  • Lime Olive Oil 1 T
  • Sea Flower Salad (Recipe Follows) 2.25 C (loosely packed)
Curry Paste:
  • Galangal Root .5 T
  • Ginger Root 1 T
  • Lemongrass Stalks 1.5 T
  • Garlic .5 T
  • Red Thai Chilies 2 each
  • Kaffir Lime Leaves (Chiffonade) 4 each
  • Ground Paprika 2 T
  • Ground Turmeric .5 t
  • Ground Coriander .5 t
  • Ground Cumin .5 t
  • Fish Sauce 2 T
  • Olive Oil 1 T
Lobster Stock:
  • Olive Oil 2 oz
  • Lobster Shells 3 lbs
  • Mirepoix 1.5 lbs
  • Whole Garlic Cloves 8 each
  • Mixed Peppercorns 10 each
  • Tomato Paste 1 C
  • White Wine 1 quart
  • Mirin 1 quart
  • Kaffir Lime 10 each
  • Water 1G
Sea Flower Salad Mix:
  • Whole Lime (Small dice) 1 each
  • Citrus Mix 2 C (loosely packed)
  • Pea Tendrils 4 each
  • Edible Thai Basil Flowers and Buds 3 stalks
  • Edible Starflower 8 each
  • Edible Orchids 8 each
  • Edible Borage Blossoms 8 each
Panang Lobster Curry
  1. Place olive oil into pot to cook lobster and turn on high. While the oil is heating you will begin to clean and assemble the mise en place for the *curry paste. (See recipe).
  2. Place lobster onto cutting board. Using a sharp knife place the tip behind its head in the first separation joint.
  3. Swiftly stab downward into the head of each lobster allowing for the innards’ liquor to begin flowing out. Begin to separate the head section in half and turn the lobster 180 degrees in the opposite direction.
  4. Swiftly stab downward and separate the tail portion lengthwise.
  5. Using kitchen shears you will separate the tail, body, knuckles and claws and begin to reserve the brain and the roe for the curry.
  6. Check to ensure that the temperature of the olive oil is around 165 degrees before loading the lobster parts in for cooking.
  7. Place mise en place and cooking utensils next to the burner. Place a pan on low heat. Add 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and begin to warm.
  8. Add curry paste, roe, brain and Mirin. Dissolve the paste in the Mirin. Once the paste is dissolved add the Kaffir lime leaves, lobster bodies, *stock (See recipe) and bring to a slow boil.
  9. Remove lobster claws and tails from the cooking oil and set aside on ice.
  10. Remove claw meat and tail meat from their shells and keep on ice.
  11. As you remove the claw and tail meat, add the shells to the simmering curry.
  12. While lobster shells are simmering in the curry, shuck the peas from their pods, cut the potatoes and bamboo shoots and set aside.
  13. Separate the mushrooms from their clusters, cleaning and trimming them as you go along. Set mushrooms aside with the bamboo shoots, potatoes and peas. Take all usable vegetable trimmings and add them to the simmering curry. Clean and sanitize workstation.
  14. Add sugar to the curry and taste for sweetness. Continue to simmer while the claw and tail meat are being chopped and bias cut.
  15. Keep the tail meat separate from the claw meat and set aside on ice. Clean and sanitize workstation.
  16. Place an aluminum-mixing bowl on ice and combine the chopped lobster claws, mayonnaise and Sriracha sauce, then fold in the Japanese breadcrumbs, and lime zest.
  17. Using an oval mold you will make the claw cakes directly in the bowl dusting each one with more breadcrumbs and weigh each cake into equal weights. Take the tail meat and add an equal amount to each cake. Form them and set them aside on ice.
  18. Strain the curry from the pan and discard all cooked lobster parts.
  19. Start two new pans on the induction burners, one for the claw cakes and one to continue simmering the curry. Transfer the curry to the pan, add the potatoes and sugar to the curry at this point and taste for balanced flavor. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes and then add peas and bamboo shoots.
  20. On medium heat drizzle olive oil and let warm. Add the formed claw cakes in the pan making sure they begin to slightly sizzle once added.
  21. Add the mushrooms to the curry and continue cooking.
  22. Once the cakes are browned and crispy flip the claw cake to the other side and brown until crispy.
  23. Make the *sea flower salad mix (See recipe) and set aside for plating.
  24. Using a ladle, place equal amounts of the curry into each bowl.
  25. Place a finished lobster cake into the center of each bowl.
  26. Top the cakes with the diced lime and delicately arrange the salad on top of the lime.
  27. Garnish with lime oil and edible flowers.
Curry Paste:
  1. Clean the galangal, ginger, lemongrass and peel the garlic.
  2. Roughly chop the galangal, ginger, lemongrass, garlic, Thai chilies and chiffonade the kaffir leaves.
  3. Place all ingredients into a food processor or grinder. Paste should be dark red and be smooth and consistent. Set aside until ready to use.
Lobster Stock:
  1. Place a stockpot on high heat, add olive oil and allow it to get hot, and then add lobster shells.
  2. Sauté lobster shells until they are red and you can smell the ocean.
  3. Add mirepoix, garlic, peppercorns and sauté until translucent.
  4. Add tomato paste and continue to sauté. Deglaze with Mirin and White Wine.
  5. Add water and Kaffir leaves and continue to simmer for 2 hours.
  6. Strain all items from the stock and set aside until ready for use.
Sea Flower Salad:
  1. Trim the pea tendrils and use only the tips of each of them. Set aside on ice until ready to assemble the salad.
  2. Remove the peel from the lime and cut into small dice.
  3. Arrange the diced lime on each of the lobster cakes.
  4. Delicately arrange the salad on top of the diced limes, making layers of the citrus mix and the pea tendrils.
  5. Garnish with assorted edible flowers and basil buds.

Place equal portions of the finished curry into four serving dishes, place one claw cake centered on top of each portion of curry.

Garnish with lime olive oil, Sea flower salad and place a few edible orchids, borage blossoms, starflower and top with basil flowers.


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