Ana Kasparova’s recent victory at a culinary arts competition confirmed what the 23-year-old discovered not too long ago. She was meant to cook.
As the daughter of a chef and alumnus of Lake Washington Institute of Technology (LWIT), Kasparova seems destined to follow in her father’s footsteps as she is set to graduate from LWIT’s culinary arts program, the same program her father completed. Her graduation follows her victory at the international “Global Taste of Korea” competition that was held on May 31.
The competition, held at the Art Institute of Seattle, allowed Kasparova the opportunity to display her passion for cooking. After a trip to Korea, she intends to return to the Eastside and see where her career in culinary arts takes her.
Looking back, Kasparova said her calling should have been more obvious to her. The daughter of Armenian refugees, she was born in the Ukraine and immigrated to the United States when she was around four years old. Her family settled in Bellevue and her father entered the LWIT culinary arts program.
Another inspiration for Kasparova was her grandmother, who cooked three-course meals of traditional Russian food for their extended family every day. Kasparova’s father eventually took a job at Fire Creek Grill at the Willows Run Golf Complex in Redmond and currently works there as the head chef. Kasparova worked her first job at the grill as a server. It was there she said she first fell in love with the restaurant industry.
“I like the whole feel, the energy,” Kasparova said.
After she finished her associates degree from Bellevue College, she said she worked at various restaurants while trying to figure out what to do next. One day it finally occurred to her that she should cook.
“It just clicked,” she said. “It was kind of like, ‘Duh, why haven’t you thought of this earlier?’”
For Kasparova, enrolling in LWIT’s culinary program seemed like the natural next step to take.
“It’s nice to follow in his footsteps,” she said.
Though she never cared for school, Kasparova said she enjoyed the cooking classes.
“It was interesting to me because I actually cared,” she said. “If you care about something you will do anything to be good at it or learn more about it.”
Matt Dimeo, one of the instructors in the culinary program, said although she started out with little knowledge about the subject matter, she improved rapidly and took advantage at every opportunity to learn more.
“Her first year she just really blossomed into a good cook,” he said. “She has a lot of passion, she’s dedicated, and she works very hard. With those three things, you got it. She aces every test and is so organized with any assignment.”
Kasparova was also eager to enter competitions. This year marked the second time she competed in the “Global Taste of Korea,” though last year she failed to make it into the finals.
“When you compete you leave a better cook than when you came,” Dimeo said. “She is very competitive in nature. She was like, ‘I’m going to come back and show you what I can do.’ And she did it.”
During the competition in May, the contestants were required to make japchae, a traditional Korean sweet potato and noodle dish. The challenge was to Americanize it somehow. Kasparova went with a bulgogi-infused meatball, rather than the customary strips of beef.
“I knew I definitely wanted to stick with flavors of Korean cuisine, not go and be out of the box,” she said.
When Kasparova found out she had won, she was both thrilled and relieved.
“I did feel really confident about it,” she said. “All my hard work really paid off.”
In July, Kasparova will be sent to Seoul for the next round of competition against culinary stars from 15 countries including Italy, China, France and Australia. When she returns in October, she will face the next big question, where to go from there.
“I just have this door wide open,” she said. “Anything can happen at this point. I just want to go to Korea and that’s the fun part. Anything can happen.”