Yale Hospitality’s Chef Espinal takes home the gold

Espinal beat out chefs from colleges and universities around the nation with a dish that combined French technique with Spanish flavors.
Yale chef Humberto Espinal preparing a meal at the Culinary Challenge
Chef Humberto Espinal says his winning dish at the Culinary Challenge was inspired by his roots, growing up catching fresh fish and harvesting home-grown vegetables. (Photo by Natalie Turcio/Yale Hospitality)

Yale Hospitality’s Chef Humberto Espinal won top honors in the Culinary Challenge at the 60th annual National Association of College and University Food Services (NACUFS) Conference on July 11 in Providence, RI. The Culinary Challenge is sanctioned by the American Culinary Federation.

Espinal’s journey to victory began a few months ago after his win at the NACUFS Northeast Competition, where he beat out the top culinary talent from numerous colleges and universities from the region. From there, Espinal moved on to compete at the national level, where he once again was challenged to demonstrate his talent and skills in front of a live audience.

Winning this gold medal involved countless hours of practice and extreme focus, says Espinal. While he received support, guidance, and mentorship came from many, he notes, fellow Yale Hospitality team member and coach Cyril Ortigosa-Liaz was by his side throughout his journey to victory.  

Chef Humberto Espinal with his first-prize medal and certificate.
Espinal shows off his first-prize medal and certificate. (Photo by Natalie Turcio/Yale Hospitality)

Espinal has been with Yale Hospitality for three years, and since the very beginning, he has demonstrated, time and again, his passion for cooking and his creativity in the kitchen, says Rafi Taherian, associate vice president for Yale Hospitality. 

For the Culinary Challenge, Espinal’s winning dish focused on classic French technique with Spanish flavors while embracing the theme ingredients of Littleneck clams, whole squid, and oysters. The dish comprised pan-seared Bronzini, shellfish mousse-stuffed squid, julienne summer vegetables, oyster foam, and romesco sauce.

My dish is an inspiration of my roots,” explained Espinal. “Coming from an island, I grew up catching fresh fish from the river and harvesting our own vegetables.”  

About the win, Espinal said: “Being part of the Yale culinary team has allowed me to showcase my knowledge and passion for cooking. Working with my mentor, Cyril Ortigoza, has been an amazing experience. It wouldn't be possible without him and, of course, the unconditional support of my wife and two kids.”

Yale Hospitality, located in New Haven, CT is a multi-division organization that includes Yale Dining, Yale Catering, and Yale Auxiliary & Retail, as well as a full-service Bakery and Culinary Support Center. Yale Hospitality serves an average of 14,000 meals a day in student dining, restaurants, cafes, and convenience stores and at catered events. The organization is comprised of 880 professional, culinary and service team members.


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Media Contact

Pedro Tello: pedro.tello@yale.edu, 203-436-9070