Raquel Kramer

Duck dynasty

Raquel Kramer had no doubt she would win the grand prize in the Maple Leaf Farms Discover Duck Recipe Contest

“I entered three times, three different recipes. I just knew I would win,” she said. “After working a double [shift] at the restaurant, I just started trying things out.” 

Kramer, a student in the chef apprentice program at Johnson County Community College, took first place in the student chef division, taking home $2,500 from the duck retailer Maple Leaf Farms

Her recipe for Asian Duck Empanadas with Cherry Ginger Sauce was the result of hours spent in her kitchen, using her friends as taste testers and her boyfriend as inspiration. 

“The recipe is a combination of two cuisines – Asian and Mexican – and my boyfriend loves both of those. He also really loves empanadas, so I combined some of the spices and flavorings of Asian cooking, all in an empanada,” Kramer said. 

Her boyfriend liked the result: a tangy/sweet, meaty turnover. So did her friends. So, too, did the panel of judges at Maple Leaf Farms. 

Mike Wieczorek, Midwest regional manager for Maple Leaf Farms, said contest judges look for a recipe that is simple yet delectable. 

“We would like the recipe to be casual upscale dish that’s marketable” to both professional chefs and at-home cooks, he said. 

Calling Kramer’s creation a nice balance of salty and sweet, Wieczorek presented Kramer her check in the Hospitality and Culinary Academy at JCCC. Also along to celebrate was Wally Finn, business manager for Hockenberg Newburgh, a food brokerage that sells Maple Leaf Farms products. 

“This is the first year we’ve had a winner of the Maple Leaf Farms contest from our region, and we’re excited to be able to help student chefs of Raquel Kramer’s caliber,” Finn said. 

Kramer said she has loved cooking ever since she was a child. Her family’s kitchen was always filled with family members – grandmother, grandfather, mother – making or baking something. 

When it came time to choose a career, she didn’t consider following the culinary path at first. A native of Springfield, Mo., she enrolled at the University of Missouri-Columbia because, as she explained, “that’s just what you did.” 

After two years, she still hadn’t found her life path. It took an intervention from a dear friend to set her sites on culinary school and JCCC. 

“My friend kept telling me about JCCC, about what a great culinary program they had, and how she knew I wanted to do that,” Kramer said. “But for whatever reason, I didn’t follow through, so she applied for me. She filled out the form. When I got in, she said to me, ‘See? Now you have to go!’” 

Kramer said it was probably one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for her, because she loves the culinary program at JCCC

“It’s great. I absolutely love it,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot. There have just been so many opportunities here, and I’m going after as many as I can.” 

She’ll use part of her prize money to buy some professional-quality knives. Part of it will go to buy ingredients for the next recipe contest, this one with a cash prize and a free year’s supply of duck. 

“I love duck,” Kramer said. “So I might as well keep trying.”