Last updated: February 19. 2013 8:36PM - 302 Views

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Freshman Dan Clemson headed toward a table in Wilkes University's dining hall on Thursday, carrying a solitary item on his tray.

Did that lone serving of french fries label Clemson as a not-so-adventurous eater who sticks to mainstream American fast food?

Far from it.

Clemson, who does like to sample new dishes, soon doubled back to a food station where champion chef Ernest Servantes, a winner of The Food Network's Chopped Grill Masters title, was ladling out a spicy Southwestern Potato Poblano Soup, topped with shredded cheese and a bit of salsa.

This soup is amazing, Clemson, 18, of Lehighton said after he tried it.

Dip the french fries into the soup, and it's really great, his friend Collin Strunk, 18, of Blakeslee said.

All joking aside, Wilkes students and staff were full of compliments for Servantes' offerings, which included corn, chipotle sweet potato gratin, shrimp campachana and other Tex-Mex delicacies.

We Texas guys, we have pride, Servantes said, explaining his philosophy of fearless cooking. We're competitive in everything we do.

During the past two years, Servantes has claimed more than 100 wins in barbecue cooking contests, and he holds three state barbecue titles.

As further evidence of his zest for competition, even today the thirtysomething Servantes sounds proud that in his youth he was able to outcook a sibling. She could burn water, he said with a laugh.

Chatting one on one with people in the Henry Center dining facility last week, Servantes said he's been interested in food preparation since boyhood, when he would go hunting with his father and make plans.

My father would be excited about getting a deer; I would be wondering how to cook it when we got home.

The chef also offered some cooking tips, including advice for how to handle the temperamental sister, which is what he calls poblano peppers because they can be either sweet or hotter than jalapeno.

Look for a curled stem if you want a hot one, he said. A straighter stem indicates a mild pepper.

Sodexo Dining Services periodically brings guest chefs to the campus, and it's always a chance to learn, catering manager Tina Hanson said.

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