FD: Hats off to the chef

Any culinary student can try out for the team, but there is still one ultimate test of dedication.

“Can you get up at 5 in the morning?” asked Jon St. Peter, faculty member at Western Colorado Community College and coach of the school’s culinary team.

Since August, nine students on two teams dedicated the wee hours of the morning three times a week to perfecting recipes in preparation for The American Culinary Federation Colorado Junior Team Competition on Saturday at Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs.

All that cooking paid off Monday when the results came in and the senior team found itself the student team of the year for the ACF’s Colorado chapter.

The senior team also won a silver medal in the contest, and the junior team won a bronze based on points given in the competition.

In the competition, each team had 75 minutes to prepare a four-course meal. While nerve wracking, the practice not only prepares students for competition but also for the stress of the job when they get done with school, St. Peter said.

“It’s like they enter the workforce already trained with that background,” he said.

The competition had two phases: a skills salon and a cooking phase.

The skills salon tested each student’s mastery of basic cooking skills such as filleting fish and preparing vegetables.

Judges critique the food from the cooking phase on its appearance and taste. In this year’s competition, all teams were required to make pauiiettes de sole a’la trouvillaise, a dish with shrimp, fish and mussels.

While the fish course was required, the other courses, looking less like food and more like art, were chosen by the teams, which added personal touches to the courses.

For example, the senior team presented a sponge cake with raspberries and a whipped cream mousse topped with toffee pieces and piped chocolate for dessert. The junior team prepared pan-fried chicken with rosemary garlic mashed potatoes and a side of pared vegetables for their entree.

During the competition, the both teams received many compliments for how they “followed the example of Auguste Escoffier,” said StaceyLeigh Swift , the teams’ captain.

Escoffier, considered the founder of the cooking craft, paid particular attention to the way food was cooked, she said.

After the competition, the students helped cook an eight-course meal for a special wine and food pairing in honor of Escoffier, which was attended by Escoffier’s great-grandson, Michel.

“I have to say, what an honor,” Swift said. “I’ve cooked for the likes of Jimmy Carter and his wife, but meeting Michel was the highlight of my life.”

Their help at the wine and food pairing earned them $1,000 for a scholarship fund at their culinary school.

The community college’s culinary program provides training in menu planning, cost control, baking and food safety and sanitation.

Chez Lena, 2508 Blichman Ave., a student-run restaurant, operates through the Colorado Culinary Academy and provides hands-on training. Students execute a new menu weekly, and the fast-paced environment teaches them how to work on a deadline.

“When you do something you love and that you are passionate about, it doesn’t feel like work,” Swift said. “And my mom always told me that if you know how to cook, that’s the way to a man’s heart. And you’ll never be alone. That’s so true.”


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