South Kitsap Student Makes the Best Crab Cakes

Photo courtesy of Dustin Buchholz

Picture this: a dollop of tartar sauce atop three golden triangular Dungeness crab cakes. And nestled between those is a crisp, fin-shape tuile flavored with chili and black bean. And all of this atop a thin spread of black bean puree and drizzled with a creamy corn sauce.

The dish, created by 17-year-old Dustin Buchholz, also tastes pretty good too.
So said a panel of judges from the Washington State Chefs Association.

Buchholz, who bested a group of college-age culinary students, was the youngest competitor in the Association’s annual Best of the Pacific Northwest last month.

Buchholz, a South Kitsap High senior and culinary arts student at West Sound Technical Skill Center, has been interested in cooking since taking a course in high school.

Well, that course wasn’t the first kind of cooking he’d done. He started by making breakfasts with his grandfather.

“We do hashbrowns, eggs, toast and bacon,” a favorite thing to do, he said. And he claims to be pretty good at it, too.

He now works as a dishwasher and prep cook in the Clubhouse at McCormick Woods.

Initially, he hadn’t even planned to enter the competition.

But his boss, Clubhouse Executive Chef Bruce Bonholzer, had regularly pushed Buchholz to push him to learn more and believed Buchholz could do well in the competition and paid his $35 entry fee into the student category.

Once entered, Buchholz had to develop a recipe and decide how to plate it.

“You just kind of make them and start adding different things,” he said. He toyed with recipes from work, got ideas from his boss and his skills center instructor and crafted a recipe all his own.

Aside from taste, the dish has to look good.

“You want it to have a variety of colors and be eye-appealing to whoever is judging it,” he said.

The morning of the competition, Buchholz and assistant Alex Radovich went to the skills center, putting together all that they could of their Mexican-themed dish ahead of the competition.

From there, they took the mostly prepared crab cakes to Le Cordon Bleu School in Tukwilla, where they breaded, cooked and set all the parts on glazed, green plates, chosen specially for the competition. They made extra for other attendees to taste.

Buchholz was confident as he prepared the dish. That was, until he finished and got a chance to see and taste other students’ dishes.

“I was actually doubting myself toward the end,” he said.

One girl created a layered crab cake that looked almost like a wedding cake. Others had beautiful tasting dishes and “really neat flavors.”

But come decision time, the judges loved most of the dish and suggested he sell the tuile. They didn’t care for the large amount of tartar sauce, though, and suggested he use more cream of corn.

He received a first-place plaque and a $350 prize.

For Buchholz, a career in culinary arts may depend less upon whether this honor can launch it and more upon the U.S. Navy, where he hopes to follow in his grandfather’s wake.

“I’ve always wanted to go and serve my country,” he said.

And with a fleet of ships’ messes, he may just get that chance.

So what is the recipe for these award-winning crab cakes?

“I’m going to keep that one to myself,” Buchholz said.