Let me start by setting the stage for everyone. An inconspicuous Wednesday night in Rosemead, CA at the Panda Express Headquarters, a small group of local Southern California Food Bloggers gathered to take part in Panda Express’ first ever Wok Star Challenge. The evening included the opportunity for the Food Bloggers to explore Panda Express’ test kitchen and take in a live cooking demonstration from Executive Chef Andy Kao (known as the creator of the infamous Orange Chicken). Following the demonstration, the Food Bloggers drew straws (or shall I say chopsticks) and were paired into teams of two to compete in a quick fire challenge with a grand prize of $250 each for the two members of the winning team to present to the charities of their choice. I am proud to have had Quyen represent Kitchen Runway in the competition and we were equally as excited to compete on behalf of Southern California Golden Retreiver Rescue. Quyen was paired up with a wonderful teammate, Cathy from Gastronomy Blog. The other contestants included Hong and Kim of The Ravenous Couple, Vernon of Stellar Recipes, Patti of Worth the Whisk, H.C. of L.A. and O.C. Foodventures, and Jenna of Eater LA.
The teams were given 20 minutes from start to finish to execute their winning dish. The theme of the night was to create a dish that was inspired by the upcoming Lunar New Year’s holiday (Chinese New Year). Quyen and Cathy went to work fast and furiously with their Spicy Jackfruit Chicken. As they sized up the available ingredients, they whisked off with an assortment of ingredients that included oyster sauce, fermented black beans, onions, red peppers, woodear mushrooms, fresh shitake mushrooms, sesame oil, dried chili pods, fresh red chilies, sambal ,garlic, ginger, cilantro, Fuji apples and of course jackfruit. Each dish was to contain chicken as well. They were very happy with the dish; it was spicy, sweet and balanced.
As Chef Kao sampled each dish, the particpants held their breath as each tried to get a read on who the winner would be from his comments and critiques. All the dishes were creative and delicious, but in the end, Cathy and Quyen’s Spicy Jackfruit Chicken reigned supreme! We are excited to provide Southern California Golden Retreiver Rescue with our winning donation of $250 and Cathy donated her winning portion to Cooking Matters Los Angeles.
The night was wrapped up with a Panda Express food feast for all of the participants! It was such a fun and rewarding experience. It’s always a great feeling to be able to give back — especially when you get to do what you love. Thank you Panda Express for allowing us to participate, tour your headquarters and the opportunity to give generously to charities that are dear to us.
During Chef Kao’s cooking and knife skills demonstration, we were able to sample Panda Express’ newest offering, Firecracker Chicken. This new dish will be available for a limited time only during Chinese New Year and we would like everyone to get a chance to try it for free. You can redeem the coupon for your free single serving of Firecracker Chicken Breast on February 3rd. Happy New Year! Wishing you a healthy and prosperous year!