Panda Express Wok Star Challenge

panda express

Several weeks ago we were welcomed into the Panda Express headquarters test kitchen in Rosemead, CA for a Wok Star Challenge. For the first time in Panda’s history, they opened their kitchen to outsiders and gave us, the Wok Stars, the opportunity to learn about basic stir fry techniques from head Chef Andy Kao, the man that developed many of Panda Express’s recipes including inventing orange chicken and even cook for him!

panda express

Along with other Wok Star friends Quyen of Kitchen Runway, Cathy of Gastronomy, Patti of Worth the Whisk, H.C. of L.A. and O.C Foodventures, and Jenna of Eater LA, we drew chopsticks Top Chef style and divided into teams of 2. First we were given a basic lesson in cutting vegetables by Chef Andy Kao, emphasizing the importance of cutting similar size vegetables for even cooking.


We all took turns chopping away and then taught basic wok techniques in the test kitchen where Panda Express chefs are extensively trained before stepping into the real kitchen. Chef Andy Kao created Panda Express’s firecracker chicken breast for all of us to enjoy.

firecracker chicken

After tasting these tender spicy morsels of chicken, the real fun of the evening was just about to begin. There was no time to rest as we were given 20 minutes to come up with a dish to celebrate the Lunar New Year using special ingredients that symbolizes good fortune, prosperity and good health.

panda express

And just like in Top Chef, we had to have hands up in the air and finish plating when time was called. Each team presented their dish to Chef Kao who tasted each dish and took meticulous tasting notes. In the end, he chose Quyen and Cathy’s dish of jackfruit chicken to win the $500 prize to donate to a charity of their choice.

Since the first location in 1983, Panda Express has become the largest Asian restaurant chain in America with over 1300 locations and 18,000 associates. Amazingly it’s all still owned by the same family after all these years.  From the way we were treated as valued guests in the Panda Express kitchen, we can see that good food is not the only reason why they’ve been so successful. Great customer service and pride in the community was also evident. Join the Panda Express Facebook page to find out about new dishes and how you can get free meals every time there is a new dish!

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12 Responses to “Panda Express Wok Star Challenge”

  1. 1

    Tiffany — February 27, 2011 @ 1:35 am

    I can't believe a foodie blog is calling Panda Express "good food". Have you no dignity?

  2. 2

    Ravenous Couple — February 27, 2011 @ 1:44 am

    @tiffany: regardless of your personal feelings about Panda Express, over 30 yrs in business and 1300 stores speaks for itself. We're not pretentious to think we're beyond Panda Express. We eat at fine dining, hole in the walls, and yes, sometimes even "fast food," though Panda Express does not use the processed foods like most fast food joints. If we're in a mall or airport, and need a quick bite, we'll gladly eat at Panda Express.

  3. 3

    Joy — February 27, 2011 @ 8:26 am

    Looks great!

  4. 4

    Fresh Local and Best — February 27, 2011 @ 3:36 pm

    This looks like a really fun event! I like the Top Chef inspired competition, and the snap of Hong's hands in the air. There was a time years ago when I had to travel extensively for weeks each month. I was always grateful when the airport had a Panda Express, just so that I could have a delicious option, and the long lines spoke to that.

  5. 5

    Anonymous — February 28, 2011 @ 1:47 am

    It might be interesting for your readers to know the list of ingredients you were given to work with to create your dish. That way we could think about what we might have done in your shoes! And why not tell us about what you made with them?

  6. 6

    TripleScoop — February 28, 2011 @ 4:02 am

    You guys look like you a had a lot fun!

  7. 7

    Gastronomer — February 28, 2011 @ 6:15 am

    Tiffany's lame. Panda Express is delish 😉

  8. 8

    Chiara "Kika" Assi — February 28, 2011 @ 11:21 am

    What did you end up making? It sounds like a fun challenge!

  9. 9

    Daniel — February 28, 2011 @ 2:49 pm

    Cool you got to work with Chef Andy! I work with him quite often developing new products for Panada. 🙂 Glad you guys had a great time.

  10. 10

    Ravenous Couple — February 28, 2011 @ 5:38 pm

    @anonymous and kika: we didn't get a good photo of our dishes so couldn't post it up. We had to make a chicken stir fry. The ingredients ranged from bittermelon, jackfruit, kumquats as well as more tradition peppers, onions, etc. Hong and HC made a citrusy kumquat chicken and I can't even remember what I made, but we had lots of spice! 🙂

  11. 11

    Chris and Amy — February 28, 2011 @ 8:18 pm

    How fun! Congratulations on being "wok stars"!!!

  12. 12

    Tsz — April 25, 2011 @ 12:58 pm

    Panda Express holds a special place in my heart—it’s where I first tried orange chicken 🙂 Btw, love the site redesign!

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