Mount Union Students Compete for Title of Platinum Chef 2008

February 27, 2008

platinumchef2008When the dining hall closed at 7 p.m. on Tuesday evening, the heat was just turning up for the second annual Platinum Chef Cook-off, sponsored by AVI Fresh, food service provider for Mount Union College.

Twenty-five Mount Union students arrived wearing white chef coats and hats, donated by Morgan Linens, in hopes of winning the grand prize: a $100 Lowes gift card, chef coat and the title of Platinum Chef 2008.

Hosting the event was Bob Marx, director of dining services along with Joe Hinton, associate director of dining services.

There were five teams of students, each consisting of five members. Each team was also assigned a sous-chef, employed by AVI, to show them around the kitchen.

Sous-chefs included AVI staff members Doug Shreve (Team 1), Mike Ballas (Team 2), Nick Macheca (Team 3), Joe Jacobs (Team 4) and Tony Vergallito (Team 5). Team 1 members were Stephen Epple, Jason Wild, brother and sister duo Ian Steger and Heather Steger and Jake Hancock; Team 2 members were Maggie Zronek, Chelsey Stedronsky, Samantha Rohdini, Lauren Seacrest and Kaylen Lappin; Team 3 members were Erik Newman, Gian Surbella, Andy Smith, Pete Carpenter and Matt Carlozzi; Team 4 members were John Comella, AJ Kallay, Cassie Collins, Andrew Loundon and Ryan Rosenthal; and Team 5 members were Justin Brew, John Gallo, Ryan Conetti, Ian Valverde and Kelly Paugh.

Last week, these teams were told that they would be given shrimp and that they would have to prepare a meal with a minimum of three courses that incorporated this staple ingredient. This gave the team five days to create or find shrimp recipes, but was still difficult because they had no idea what other ingredients they would be offered.

When the clock struck seven, the students raced to a bar in the middle of the cafeteria, which was covered with ingredients ranging from fruits and vegetables, to soy sauce and ice cream. Once they gathered their ingredients, it was off to their designated stations to begin to work. The teams had two hours to come up with as many dishes possible and present them to the judges.

The panel of judges consisted of five members of the Mount Union faculty and one representative from AVI. Judges included Pat Heddleston, vice president for business affairs; Anne Graffice, director of alumni and college activities; Jim Piatt, vice president for college advancement; Dr. Rodney Dick, assistant professor of English; and Amy Tomko, vice president for enrollment services. Representing AVI was Vince Lombardi, district manager.

Most of these students have no cooking background, so the judges did not know what to expect; but they were pleasantly surprised.

“I am impressed with the level of organization,” Lombardi said. “I expected some confusion, but they’re all prepared.”

The teams were judged in six different areas. Throughout the competition, the judges rated the teams on sanitation and teamwork. At 9 p.m. sharp, the first team had to present and the judges got to see and taste the food. At this time, the teams were rated on creativity, taste, timeliness and plate presentation.

For each additional dish that was prepared and included shrimp, aside from the three mandatory dishes, teams received five bonus points.

The students presented their dishes, ranging from an appetizer of pickled shrimp with an avocado and tomato salsa, to shrimp bisque, shrimp skewers over couscous, and even a shrimp dessert.

The judges had some tough decisions to make. In addition to the information on the score card, the judges also asked questions about the ingredients, the process and what the biggest challenge was during the process.

According to the first team’s member, Jason Wild, who is one of the reigning platinum chefs from last year, the biggest challenge was finding a dish that they thought seemed appealing to the as well as the judges.

There was constant praise coming from the judge’s panel, and the scores were very close.

Team 5, who called themselves the Grizzly Bear Prophets, won the competition. Their dishes included a shrimp cake with a spicy remoulade sauce, bacon-wrapped shrimp skewers with a pear and jalapeño barbeque sauce, Shrimp Fines herb and Shrimp Canapé. In second place, only five points behind, was Team 2.

In the end, the teams were not only there for the prizes, but for the experience as well as a break from all of their school work.

“It was a great way to break up the monotony,” Hinton said.

According to Marx, everybody got to meet new people and the students got to see what the kitchen staff does everyday to feed 1,500 students.

There will be another Platinum Chef competition next year, where other students can try to earn the title of Platinum Chef 2009.

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