Competing Culinarians Highlighted in Mirror

Thursday, March 09, 2006
SNHU Communications Office

Iron Chefs in Training
By Michelle Saturley
Staff Writer - Manchester Mirror

Training to be a world-class chef isn’t just about fabulous recipes with exotic, unpronounceable ingredients. It’s also about teamwork, problem-solving on the fly, and most importantly, mad knife skills. At least, those are some of the criteria for Southern New Hampshire University’s culinary competitive team. The five-member team of second-year culinary students recently took first place at the New Hampshire State American Culinary Federation (ACF) Junior Championship, and are now setting their sights on the regional competition, a face-off between the top culinary schools in the Northeast, held in Toronto, Canada, in March.

Team coaches Perrin Long and Matt Louis said the team is ready to bring it on.

“By the time the students are in their second year, they have the basic skills they need to participate in a competition like this,” Perrin said. “But not everyone has the drive or the desire to compete. It takes a certain kind of person to want to put themselves in this situation.”

Perrin and Louis said one way to weed out the dabblers from the true culinary gladiators is through the tryout process.

“We held the tryouts for the team back in November at five in the morning,” he said. “That was for two reasons: first, it’s really the only time of day that everyone’s schedule is clear and we have access to the kitchen. Second, it’s a good indicator of which students are serious enough and committed enough to be on the team.”

Long said he and Louis select team members based on knife handling ability and knowledge of food combinations. Once the students make the team, the grueling practice sessions begin.

“Each practice is like a mock competition,” Louis said. “The team has to be very organized, because they are judged on the cleanliness of their work. We teach them to set everything up beforehand, including all their utensils and equipment.”

In the competitive arena, the teams are judged in two separate categories. First, their cutting and knife-handling skills are evaluated.

“The judges examine their knife cuts to make sure they are consistent and match up with the measurement requirements,” Perrin said. “The students have to use several types of cuts, such as julienne, on a variety of ingredients. They have to de-bone a chicken and a fish. The judges watch their technique and look at the finished product to make sure it looks a certain way.”

Team member Beth Duca said the competition is nerve-wracking.
“Sometimes the judges stand right over you and watch you as you’re cutting or cooking,” she said. “If you’re not used to it, you can get distracted.”

After the knife-cutting portion, the next event is the menu competition. This is the most challenging aspect of competitive cooking. The team has one hour and 15 minutes to create a four-course meal, including a salad, appetizer, entrée and dessert. In the state competition, SNHU’s team received high marks in all courses, particularly the salad, a quickly constructed concoction of arugula greens, herbs, Roquefort and a green apple vinaigrette dressing.

“One of the judges said it was the best salad he’d ever eaten at a competition,” Long said. “Another judge said, ‘The salad is perfect. Let’s move on.’ The students were very proud.”

The team took the silver medal and first place in the event, beating out Atlantic Culinary Academy of Dover, on Feb. 4. Now, the five members, along with coach Long, are staying focused on the ACF Northeast regional conference, scheduled for March 16. The event is a showdown between eight or nine of the region’s best junior teams, and only one school per state gets to attend.

“We went to the Northeast conference last year, and we received a bronze medal,” Long said. “I think this team has what it takes to win. There’s a good chemistry between the students. They work well together. They’re talented and they’re very competitive. If they cook the way they have been doing in practice, they will get a medal.”

A professor in the culinary arts program as well as the team coach, Long knows first hand what it’s like to compete in these events.

“I’ve been participating in competitive cooking for many years,” he said. “I have an event coming up in April in New York City, so I know what these students are going through.”
Long thinks that the competitive cooking arena is gaining popularity thanks to shows like Iron Chef, The Restaurant and the programs on the Food Network.

“I think people are interested in it because it combines Americans’ love of food with their love of competitive sports,” he said.

For the students, the event gives them an opportunity to do more than walk away with a medal.
“Competitive cooking like this is similar to the real world,” Louis said. “It’s teaching them to work clean and organized while still putting out quality food.”

If you’d like to sample the skills of the second-year students in the program, including some members of the competitive culinary team, visit the SNHU Hospitality Center Restaurant, located at 2500 N. River Road, Manchester. The restaurant is open to the public on Wednesday evenings for dinner, and Wednesday through Friday for lunch. Find out what’s on the menu this week by calling 603.629.4608. 


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