By Frank Stanko
Jared Wick knows the pressures of competing and setting the best example for his teammates. His playing field just happens to be the kitchen.
Wick, a second year at North Dakota State College of Science, was one of eight culinary arts students who led the school to seventh place at the 2017 Central Regional Culinary Salon Competition. Not only did he represent NDSCS, but North Dakota itself.
“Every knife cut, you want it to be good, just to justify your being captain. It’s a pressure, but it’s a good pressure,” he said. “It taught me to strive more, to work harder and to be a leader.”
Held by the American Culinary Federation from Friday, Feb. 3-Saturday, Feb. 4, the 2017 competition took place in Joliet, Illinois. Thanks to the event’s point system, NDSCS qualified as a bronze-level winner.
“We’re going to a different kitchen that we’ve never been in,” said associate culinary arts professor Kyle Armitage, describing the situation. “We have to bring absolutely everything from whisks to tongs, pots and pans. The only thing they provided us was the stone and the oven. We were on equipment that had never been used before, in a $58 million culinary school.”
This year was NDSCS’ second time participating in the central region competition, facing states like Texas and Illinois. Armitage, the team’s coach, critic and confidence-builder, feels the team continues to make waves.
“We went in with confidence and we learned a lot. Next year is our time to shine. I think we’re going to make the top five,” he said.
NDSCS’ team was made up of competitors and highly organized support specialists, Armitage said.
“We found that the alternates were actually the most important people. The alternates are the field generals. They’re telling the competitors, ‘This is how much time you have left. Don’t forget to do this.’ They can do everything but touch food. They have to know what each person needs at each step,” he continued.
A skills salon was the main event of day one. Team members were tested on fabrication, or butchering, in addition to other knife skills and preparing pastry.
“A well built menu utilizes what you did on Friday into Saturday,” Armitage said. “If you asked them, they probably broke down 50 chickens each practice. They probably cleaned 10 fish. They probably went through 20-40 pounds of potatoes, must have made pastry cream 15 times each. We practiced and practiced and practiced.”
Day two was the team competition, where students created four dishes in 90 minutes. The first course, filets de sole Lady Egmont, follows the competition’s requirement of having a dish from classical French chef Auguste Escoffier.
“He was a revolutionary man in the food world. He took what was going on and organized it. Much of what we still teach today is still based on Escoffier,” Armitage continued.
The poached seafood featured a butter sauce, asparagus and puff pastry. It was followed by a baby greens salad with an orange vinaigrette dressing and a sweet beet relish. Dessert had two components: A lemon sponge cake with a raspberry mousse and chocolate ravioli filled with strawberry pastry cream topped with caramel. For the entrée, Armitage and his students prepared a pan-roasted chicken breast and forcemeat ballotine.
“A ballotine is a stuffed thigh portion,” Armitage explained. “What we did during the chicken fabrication was debone the thigh, take the leg meat, purée it with seasonings, stuff it with spinach in the thigh and then roast it. Ballotine is classic. Nobody does it anymore. But we know our judges are old school.”
North Dakota’s American Culinary Federation team formed in 2015, when chef Eric Watson, Fargo, contacted NDSCS and Armitage. Watson, Armitage said, knew how competitions teach new chefs the importance of confidence, teamwork and practice. Currently, NDSCS’ team is North Dakota’s only representative. In other states, teams must first win at the local and state level.
“We’re sponsored by the Red River Valley Chef’s Association,” Armitage said. “All of our students who compete (are members). The Chef’s Association was able to donate $1,000, which covers a lot. And we talked a lot about next year on the ride home. How do we get started, how do we prepare, how do we recruit new competitors?”
On Tuesday, March 21, NDSCS held its first Culinary Day. The school invited approximately 40 high schoolers from North Dakota and Minnesota to tour the Wahpeton campus, learn more about the culinary program, try out skills such as cake decoration and knife cuts and also prepare their own lunch. This time around, the meal was simpler, with sandwiches, salads and a cupcake dessert.
“I always loved watching my mom cook when I was younger,” said Addison Erickson, a high school junior from Thief River Falls, Minnesota.
Mary Uhren, coordinator of the culinary arts program and supervisor of Culinary Day’s skills competition, said she’s extremely pleased with the team.
“They worked extremely hard. Some of these students come in hours before a class and stay hours after a class,” she said. “Drive is essential in this industry. You can’t just show up. You have to come in with a passion and a real motivation to do your best everyday. It can’t be hot and cold.”
As for Wick, he plans to keep cooking, keep learning and keep pushing himself.
“I’m still striving to be better. I always liked cooking. It never felt like work. It always brought out something in me that made me want to work harder at it. It feels great to cook every day.”
Read the full article online at wahpetondailynews.com.