Van Dyke has worked in the restaurant business for 23 years, 18 of which he has been a chef. He left the private sector to join Tech three years ago. He had lived in the area and saw that the university offered a “better quality of life.” It is events such as the Chili Challenge, as well as the recent Mayan night and other themed food festivities that distinguish his work here from previous jobs.
“We have the chance to sit here and do many new, challenging things that are exciting to us because we don’t normally get to use that kind of stuff in the private sector,” he said. “In the private sector we are stuck to a regular menu.”
Although the chefs still use the original chili recipe as a base, each year the staff experiments and gets the chance to play around with new ideas and techniques. In the past, the student reaction has been quite positive. Some have even requested that some of the foods served for special events are incorporated into the everyday menu.
“We get to showcase the talents and abilities that we do have, whether it be myself or my staff. Sometimes it’s learning new techniques too, so that’s a great opportunity,” Van Dyke said. “The creativity comes out, skill level comes out, and everybody comes with an A-game.”
The Chili Challenge has taken off over the years. After feeling the energy of this challenge, even the director of Colorado State University decided to incorporate it into his campus. At Tech, more than 300 students signed up this year, and the website had to shut down because there were no more open spots for competitors. But for those students who have joined, they not only have the chance to enjoy a good meal, but get to bond with one another as they work towards the common goal of finishing their bowl of chili.
“I think there is a sense of accomplishment,” Faulkner said. “It’s almost like a rite of passage.”
Years down the road they can pull out their chili-splattered T-shirts, igniting the attached memories of laughing together as they faced the first burn, to cheering in pure glory as they slurp down the final spoonful.