Dining Services Wins a Silver Medal in Annual Chef Competition

Dining Services Wins a Silver Medal in Annual Chef Competition

Wednesday, July 03, 2013
Asian braised pork

An Asian braised pork shoulder with a pear and red pepper slaw served in a bibb lettuce cup accompanied with soba noodles dressed with a garlic chili and fermented black bean dressing prepared by executive chef Christopher Kaschak.

Imagine having a dinner party and only deciding an hour ahead of time what you were going to serve.

That’s a little bit what it was like for chefs from UNH Dining Services when they completed at the 19th Annual Tastes of the World Chef Culinary Conference held at the University of Massachusetts June 20 and 21: An hour after receiving a basket of up-until-then unknown ingredients, the four-man team had to submit a menu for a three-course meal plus a buffet platter to serve 10. Once the menu was set, it couldn’t be changed.

Then, the next day, they had three hours to prepare everything. And they ended up earning a silver medal.

Sounds easy compared to cooking for thousands of students every day, right? Not necessarily.

“Cooking for such exceptional chefs/judges certainly comes with a lot of pressure,” says UNH Dining’s Jeff Hendrix who works in Holloway Commons. “I was a bit nervous right before the competition started but once I got into it I guess you could say instinct took over. Plus you don't really have time to feel anxious. It is certainly easier to cook for 3,000 people than four judges, as odd as that sounds.”

All 17 teams were given the same ingredients: a whole chicken, pollock fillets, a bone-in pork shoulder, red rice, cornmeal, sliced almonds, fresh mozzarella, white mushrooms, eggplant, strawberries, pears, kale, and bacon. They also had access to a community pantry stocked with such items as garlic, celery, breadcrumbs, rice, sugar, sauces, flour, butter, cream, stock, corn syrup and herbs.

“When we got our ingredients list, we sat down and shot ideas back and forth between one another before coming up with the menu. We were cooking for judges who are industry leaders, but I don't think that any of us felt too much pressure. We seemed to approach it as a team effort even though we each had our own tasks,” says Todd Sweet,executive chef, Philbrook Hall, who, at competition time was just completing his first month with UNH Dining. “One of the judges even commented on how well we worked together.”

Adds Brian Place, chef de cuisine, Stillings Hall, “The only pressure we face in these events is time-related--30 minutes to write a menu seems long, but the creative process takes its own sweet time. I felt some jitters at the very beginning of the cooking period, but once you get going, you don't feel it anymore. I did get a bit nervous again toward the end, as you start to time things in your head and stress out over whether you'll finish in time.”

Dining Services chefs

(l t or) Brian Place, chef de cuisine, Stillings Hall; Jeff Hendrix, cook II, Holloway Commons; Todd Sweet, executive chef, Philbrook Hall; and Christopher Kaschak, executive chef, Holloway Commons.

Place made a chicken ballotine, a type of classically-inspired stuffed chicken, with a country pate and a mushroom supreme sauce, red rice, and chow-chow, a vinegary slaw common in the South.

This was Place’s second competition and Holloway Commons' executive chef Christopher Kaschak’s third. Kaschak prepared a buffet platter of shoulder with a pear and red pepper slaw served in a bibb lettuce cup accompanied with soba noodles dressed with a garlic chili and fermented black bean dressing.

“We were all looking at this as just having fun, doing what we all do on a regular basis,” Kaschak says. “Each chef has a dish to prepare and preparation and cooking times vary. So, as a team you help each other out whenever you have a spare second.

“This is a very talented group of chefs who competed together for the first time. I think I can speak for the team by saying what an awesome experience.”

Hendrix, who made the appetizer (a seared pollock with mushroom and fresh mozzarella polenta, bacon sautéed kale and an herb beurre blanc sauce) agreed.

“This being my first competition I wasn't sure if I would enjoy it, but I knew it would be an experience either way. That being said, I really enjoyed competing and hearing the critiques the judges had on my dish. I look forward to representing UNH at the next competition,” he says.

Scoring was based on service methods and presentation; portion size and nutritional balance; creativity, menu and ingredient compatibility; flavor, taste, texture, and doneness; and service.

“The UMass Chef Conference is a prestigious event and it is wonderful to have UNH compete and do so well,” says David May, associate vice president of Business Affairs. “I am very proud of our team. They represented UNH well.”