Debe Honibah Brady advances to Nationals with her Continental Region award

LARAMIE – It was worth the trip for Debe Honibah Brady, Dining Services Chef at the University of Wyoming.

Brady traveled to Spokane, Washington on Monday, April 1, to represent the University of Wyoming Dining Services in The National Association of College and University Food Services Culinary Challenge.

Chef Brady won a silver medal in the Continental Region competition, earning her a spot to compete at the 2019 National Culinary Challenge July 11 in Denver, during the NACUFS National Conference.

Chef Brady has competed in the NACUFS Culinary Challenge three times, and three proved to be the charm for her.

“But the pressure will really be on at the national competition!” she said.

The NACUFS Culinary Challenge is a live competition – similar to those competitions you’ll find on The Food Channel - that recognizes competitors' outstanding organization, cooking skills, culinary technique, taste, and style.

In Spokane, competitors from Brigham Young University, the University of Utah, and Colorado State University faced off against Chef Brady and the clock, to prepare a creative entrée, featuring the mandatory protein - venison saddle - an appetizing and inviting plate.

Chef Brady's award-winning dish. (Courtesy of UW)

Chef Brady completed her recipe Duet of Venison, “a play on Bordelaise and Rossini” - and won a silver medal earning her a spot to compete at the National Culinary Challenge.

“We were all provided with venison saddle. We broke down the venison, then had to create our own recipe using one or two parts of the venison.”

Why venison as the protein source? She said they usually use popular food from the region that is hosting the national competition, which in this case, is in Denver, Colorado.

“One of the most popular protein sources in Colorado and Wyoming is venison.”

She said the competitors had two burners to work with and they weren’t allowed to use any other heating sources.

“It was pretty tough! Coming from Practice One, I came a long way, because that took me 5 hours, and that wasn’t even with clean up. You have to be able to prep in the 30-minutes that they give you, then 15-minute fabrication of the protein. Then, an hour to cook, and 10-minutes to plate it after. Competition is almost 2 hours,” she said.

“It was really tough. I’m not going to lie! I had to get from doing it in 5 hours to getting it all down to a ‘T’ and making sure I had every little detail. Like, if I didn’t have shallots, I’d be running into the kitchen, adding like 2 minutes to my time. The cooking time is precious.”

She said the competitors were responsible for supplying all of their ingredients, except the venison.

“I purchased all of my fresh ingredients. A lot of my recipe is fresh ingredients.”

Chef Brady has loved cooking since she was young. At 8 years old, her grandmother started teaching her how to cook and understand the basics of a home kitchen.

“It started with my Grandma. She taught me to cook – the basic things you need to know in the kitchen. She wasn’t fluent in English, so I learned in Navajo. We used to stay in the kitchen from early morning until everyone was done eating dinner.”

She said her grandmother showed her how cooking can teach you how to apply different types of knowledge, like reading comprehension and mathematics, to real-life experiences in the kitchen.

Debe and Riley. (Courtesy of UW)

“I do that with my son as well. Cooking is a great way to interact with your kids or grandkids. It also helps them be aware of what’s in the food they eat. I used to work for Head Start, and they used to have nutrition experiences, where the kids would get involved in making a recipe. When they knew what went into food, it helped introduce them to a lot of different foods, like fresh fruit and vegetables versus canned food.”

Originally from Chilson Vito, AZ, near the Four Corners in the Navajo Nation, Chef Brady graduated from the Art Institute of Phoenix with an Associate’s degree in Culinary Arts. She has over 6 years of cooking experience, ranging from home cooking to school cafeterias and upscale buffets. She lives in Laramie with her 6-year-old son, Riley Luke Boone. Riley is in kindergarten at Beitel Elementary School.

Her goal is to become an American Culinary Federation certified chef, and in the future, a Master Chef.

Chef Brady’s regular role at the UW Maurice Brown Nutrition Center and Training Table is to assist with menu planning, organizing ideas, and preparation, along with Sous Chef Christina Macias.

“Especially at the training table. We provide different types of carbs, proteins, and veggies. A lot of what we cook is from scratch.”

She said she had the opportunity to experiment with her recipe on many eager volunteers at the university.

“I trained at the training table. I don’t know how many times I made it there! A lot of the students used to eat it there, and in the cafeteria. There were probably around 100 people that sampled it,” she said.

“I would like to thank a lot of people, because if it weren’t for their support, then I wouldn’t have been confident enough, or have the faith in myself, to actually pursue a lot of things. And those ‘people’ know who they are because I probably thank them at least once, or a million times. There aren’t enough thank-you’s in the world to appreciate or give gratitude to all these people.

“Everyone at work, they help me a lot. They let me practice – I probably practiced this recipe 50 times – and they were kind enough to take up my spot, my role, in helping everyone else in the kitchen. I usually run a lot of things, and they all helped me. It was a team effort.

“My son, Riley, has been with me since Practice One, and a lot of my practices happen after work. So after I put in my hours every week, I would put in the extra time to practice. It was a lot of time dedicated to it! And it paid off. I’m ready to get back to it. I hope to inspire a lot of people, something I can check off my bucket list!”