For the fourth consecutive year, Culver’s of Whitewater has a team qualified to compete in the “Elite 8” of the Culver’s Grillmaster Competition.
The two-member grill and bun team, featuring UW-Whitewater junior Evan Harbridge and senior Kristin Orlando, will compete in the Grillmaster National Tournament on Feb. 22 in Nashville, Tenn.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Harbridge said. “I’m excited for the competition but I’m also excited for the experience to go to Nashville. I’ve never been there.”
The Grillmaster competition starts with a team from every single Culver’s in the country. First, they take a written test. The teams that do best on the test move onto regionals, where they compete in a cooking competition.
From there, the top 20 teams move to sectionals where the competition involves each team cooking 12 orders (eight in house and four drive-thru) in 30 minutes. Orders are then graded on accuracy, presentation and taste.
“Even though it’s what we do every day when we go into work, it was just completely different,” Orlando said. “It was really, really fast. And coming from the Whitewater Culver’s, in a small town, we don’t get that busy that often.”
Orlando said after sectionals the team wasn’t too confident that they would make it to the championship. They were relieved to get a phone call from the judges saying otherwise.
“When we got the phone call we were pretty stoked about it,” Orlando said. “It’s a free trip to Nashville and potentially we could win some money, so that’s cool.”
The top four teams at the Grillmaster National Tournament will come home with some money. The winning team will take home $1,500.
The team said they are expecting the most intense competition yet in Nashville, but they still feel good about their chances if they perform at the top of their game.
“I think our chances are pretty good,” Harbridge said. “We’re a pretty solid team. But out of the 450 teams that started, there is only eight left so obviously they’re all pretty good at what they do. So we have to bring our ‘A’ game.”
Harbridge and Orlando have been working together at Culver’s for more than two years.
“We’ve worked together enough that we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” Harbridge said. “We can help each other out when it gets busy, so I’m really happy that she’s my partner.”
Whitewater Culver’s owner Jon Laundrie said he was proud of the team and said they deserve recognition.
“I’m very proud of them,” Laundrie said. “I just want the entire community to know that we have one of the best grill teams in the country right here in Whitewater. So when customers come in, they get the best of the best.”