Ulster BOCES means different things to different people. For Ayaka Guido, a young chef who bested celebrity chef Bobby Flay at his own game on his wildly popular Food Network culinary competition series, "Beat Bobby Flay," Ulster BOCES was the magic ingredient in her success story.
Ayaka grew up in Kingston and attended the Kingston City School District. Feeling confined by the traditional classroom setting, she recognized Ulster BOCES as a resource for the active, hands-on education she desired. Despite not having a strong background in cooking, she immediately found the Culinary Arts program to be a good fit, noting that she not only received a fundamental education in the culinary arts–but she also got her first taste of culinary competition, earning second place in a state SkillsUSA cooking contest.
Ayaka graduated from Kingston High School and completed her Ulster BOCES program in 2008 and then eagerly moved on to the prestigious Culinary Institute of America (CIA), where she earned an Associate in Culinary Arts degree. She then moved to New York City, where she currently cooks as a sous chef at a Thomas Keller-owned, three-star Michelin restaurant called Per Se. “Ulster BOCES helped me find my path,” said Ayaka. “I wouldn’t be cooking if it was not for BOCES. I would not be living in NYC, working at one of the best restaurants in the world if it was not for my start at Ulster BOCES.”
Ayaka recalls Linda Carter, one of her Ulster BOCES Culinary Arts instructors, as a fount of knowledge and encouragement. Carter shared the warm sentiments. “Ayaka was very energetic; she was like a sponge absorbing as much knowledge as possible,” she said, citing Ayaka obtaining her ServSafe food safety certification while in high school as a major accomplishment.
Carter and her former student agreed that the program’s teaching of elemental baking and cooking skills imparted the foundational education required to attend the CIA. “At Ulster BOCES, students not only learn how to conduct themselves as young professionals; they also learn essential cooking techniques, from stocks, soups, and sauces to roasting and frying, salad-making, dressing, and garnishing dishes,” Carter said. Students learn the basic steps of proper sanitation too, she added, all of which helps to prepare them for employment in the culinary industry. “Ulster BOCES gave me the key basics I needed to get into the CIA,” said Ayaka.
After graduating from the CIA, Ayaka quickly became known in the culinary field for her innovative Japanese-Italian fusion cuisine, which draws from both of her cultural backgrounds. She began to participate– and eventually was featured–in culinary “pop-ups” around Manhattan. In 2019, the Bobby Flay show reached out to a professional colleague, who suggested they invite Ayaka to interview for the show. One phone call later and she was invited in to record the show in front of a live studio audience (although the pandemic pushed back the airing date to November 16, 2021). Ayaka admitted that she is not the most “upfront, confident person,” explaining that most chef training is focused on the “back of house” (kitchen), so being in the spotlight was a bit of a new experience. She admits she even contemplated canceling on the morning of the competition, explaining that she was concerned that a mistake on national TV could haunt her indefinitely. “
“I felt awkward the whole time, but everyone said that I did awesome,” she said, now laughing at how she was preoccupied with keeping her food preparation station spotless to avoid later taunts from colleagues.
Ayaka competed in the first round of the competition using a “mystery ingredient” chosen by Flay: walleye fish. Staying present in each moment as the clock ticked down kept her focused amidst a multitude of cameras and distractions. Unfamiliar with the fish, she worried she spent too much time fileting it; however, she ultimately dished it on top of complementary classic Mediterranean ingredients, securing the win.
For the final round, Ayaka challenged Chef Flay with a pasta creation, which is seldom invoked in the timed competition due to the complexity of the many steps required to make pasta. She quickly hurdled the pasta-making component and ultimately concocted a delicious egg ravioli with egg yolk and crispy maitake mushrooms. In a blind taste test, the judges selected her dish over Chef Flay’s, earning her bragging rights.
While Ayaka may have been slightly unsure about entering the competition, her colleagues didn’t doubt her chances of securing the win. Thomas McKenna, the Culinary Director for Creative Culinary Management, has worked alongside Ayaka for years. He said that Ayaka has impressive intuition and skills. “She has a great ability to think about flavors and how to build them,” he said. “On top of that, she is talented and knows many techniques that set her apart.”
(Photo credit: Shotti NYC Photography)