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Raleigh Davenport '12 Competes In The ACE Event

‘I was in my element’: Erskine alumnus and campus chef shines at regional competition

Alumnus Raleigh Davenport ’12, Food Service Manager for Aramark in Erskine’s Moffatt Dining Hall, brought his culinary talents to the Aramark Culinary Excellence (ACE) Competition in March, earning fourth place.

Fifty-four Aramark chefs were nominated from the southeast region—encompassing South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida—but only 18 were chosen to compete and were divided into two groups of nine. Davenport, nominated by Aramark district manager Kevin Ingham, made the cut and was scheduled to compete March 7 at Berry College in Georgia.

Initially, Davenport was nervous about the ACE event, which he says “was like a Chopped competition,” referencing the Food Network cooking show. “We had an hour to prepare a whole chicken that we had to use as our main ingredient, while working with a common pantry.”

Although this was Davenport’s first cooking competition, he is no newcomer to the kitchen. He began working in Moffatt Dining Hall in 2006 as a dishwasher while he was still in high school. After graduating from Erskine in 2012 with a B.S. in Business Administration, Davenport continued working for Aramark at Erskine, under the mentorship of Aramark General Manager Randy Moore, who has worked at Erskine since 1996.

Both Davenport and Moore earned accolades in 2023, with Moore named General Manager of the Year for the Southeast Region of Aramark Collegiate Hospitality and Davenport receiving Aramark’s South Carolina Culinarian of the Year award.

As the ACE competition neared, Davenport practiced for the event with assistance from Moore. “Randy helped prepare me for the competition,” he says, “from giving me an entire day to practice fabricating and evaluating my recipe to helping me adjust my recipe based on time and taste.”

On the day of the competition, five members of the Erskine community traveled to Berry College to support Davenport: Erskine President Dr. Steve Adamson and First Lady Von Adamson; Events Coordinator Ginger Pitts and Alan Pitts, who serves in Erskine’s archives; and Vice President for Operations and Strategic Planning Bobby Clarke.

Working with cameras and spectators nearby was a new experience for Davenport, but he found he was able to focus on his cooking and tune out the distractions. “As soon as the kitchen judges told me I could start, I was in my element,” he says.

Competitors were evaluated by four judges—one kitchen judge checking for food safety and three tasting judges. Davenport’s dish was Parmesan and Red Pepper Chicken Roulade with a Thyme Cream Sauce, Parmesan Mashed Red Bliss Potatoes, and a Blistered Tomato-Arugula Salad with an Apple Cider Vinaigrette. The dish earned him his fourth-place finish at the competition.

“Overall, the experience was a lot of fun,” Davenport says. “When I was first told that I was selected to compete I was super nervous, but practicing helped put some of my nervousness aside and when the competition began, I was ready to go. To place fourth in my first competition was incredible!”

A sign honoring Raleigh Davenport reads, "Raleigh Davenport is an integral part of the student experience and culinary innovation at Erskine College. Erskine holds a special place in Raleigh's heart as it is where he has a Bachelor's of Science in Business Administration which he received in 2012. Raleigh started with Aramark in 2006i as a dishwasher and 18 years later he is now the Food Service Manager at Erskine College. Raleigh has supported the Ingham district by serving as food champion and most recently received the 2023 South Carolina Culinarian of the Year.

Above: Aramark gifted Davenport with a banner in recognition of his achievements

Erskine and Due West Skyline

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