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We're excited to see the field of competitors who have already won their golden ticket and registered to compete at the 2024 World Food Championships. And we are always proud to announce our special guests and celebrity judges participating in our judging events across the nation - we're sure the championship food certainly helps! Best of luck to our 2024 competitors!


Team Hawaii

HEAD COOK: James Aptakin

COMPETITION: World Seafood Championship

If there had been a Junior Master Chef Competitionwhen James Aptakin was ten-yearsold, there is no question that he would have won the big prize. Baking shortbread and jam cookies at the age of eight and making complete dinners for family and friends by 5thgrade, James was on his way to winning enough awards to last a lifetime, garnering his first Executive Chef position at 25 years of age. A small glimpse of his honors range from1stPlace as a local Iron Chef for the California tomato festival,1stPlacein the Food Network’s 2008 Big Bash Caterers competition, and 1stPlace in the People’s Choice Mangos Award at the Moana Hotel’s (Waikiki) 7thAnnual Hawaii Top Chef Competition to two-time 1stPlace winner of the Seafood Competition and 1stRunner-upReserve Champion in the 2016 World Food Championships—soon to be seen on the FYI TV Network. Chef James’ formal cooking education began on the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) where he learned to cook for 6,000 aircraft carrier crewmembers. The man who believes that ‘food is life and cooking is soul’ then received his degree from the California Culinary Academy, continuing his education at the world’s premier culinary college, Culinary Institute of America. A business degree in sales/marketingand advertisingfrom Heald Collegecombined with his experiencemade it possible for James to be a successful businessman in addition to a talented chefwith his catering company, Layers of Flavor;a high-end theatrical catering company that wowed movers and shakersfrom all walks of life;and a line of sauces he created with Wine Country Kitchens in Napa Valley.Born and raised in Miami, Florida, Chef James was influenced first byhis mother, and by living 20years with and dining on the city’s South American food flavors.Moving to California, and living in San Francisco’s Bay areafor 22 yearsgave James the opportunityto develop a large volume background, cooking for thousands at a timeat hotels, casinos and convention centers. It was here that he refinedhis award-winning Pan-Asian-Hawaiian cuisine with French techniques; and wherehis spectacularwine dinners celebrated the rich and famous. Continuing westward, James moved to Hawaii in 2011 wherehe incorporated his South American exotic flavorsandCalifornia flair withlocal farm-to-table and Pan-Asian-Hawaiian fusion into even more award-winning menus. Recognized for his commitment to local products, James won the Hawaii Food Manufacturer’s Association Battle of the Chefstwo out of three times(HMFA Taste Awards) and won the most write-in votes for Hale Aina Awards Best Gourmet Comfort Food in Hawaii (Mac 24/7 –2014-2017). No stranger to TV cameras, Chef James’first TV appearances wereon the Travel Channel, on Taste of America, then on to the Home Shopping Network (HSN)promoting his sauces. Since then, hehas been on a Zagat-produced show about high-end Spam dishes;featured on Cooking Hawaiian Styleand Living Local;the go-to chef for news regardingsustainability farm-to-table Hawaiian fusion cuisine,even traveling to appear on Australia TV to promote Hawaiian fusion cuisine;and featured on the FYI Network’s Food Pornwith Michael Chernow, and Guy’s Grocery Games. At home in Honolulu with his wife, Ruth, an ICU RN, James Aptakinenjoys ocean sports,exploring new restaurants and traveling. However, his true passion is philanthropy, bettering the lives of others as his adoptive family did for him when he was four and had already lived in 12 foster homes. Giving others a second chance through food charity events funding Child Haven, the American Cancer Society, etal,and fulfillinga Make A Wish 16-year-old boy’s wishto cook Italian food and pasta from scratch with Chef James and then enjoy the dinnerwith him and his family.This is what makes James Aptakin come alive in the moment of cooking. “Cooking forothers,” says Aptakin, “Makes everything around me better!”And, as Chef James is known to say, “Keep thePassion Alive!”