Top eight competitors win trip to France to study culinary arts
Each time the bread came out, everyone in the vicinity breathed a little deeper. Certain particularly beautiful desserts required a closer look—that piping, that smooth chocolatey surface. Some of the displays were so artful, you had to wonder, “How’d they do that?”
Eighteen Ivy Tech Community College Northeast hospitality administration students competed in the annual European Competition on Jan. 8, which asks students to cook, bake, or plan a predetermined menu, order, or event. Judges looked for traits like consistency, plating, following directions, and taste.
Eleven bakers, six culinarians, and one event manager completed in a few hours what they would have otherwise spent twice as much time on perfecting. The eight best, as determined by expert judges, will travel to France in May to study the culinary arts.
“It’s one thing to be able to put together a great dish, but it’s another to do so in a timeframe,” says Al Tholen, the executive corporate chef at Casa Ristoranti Italiano.
Tholen and Mike Bentz, who owns Crackerjack Catering and is an adjunct instructor at Ivy Tech Northeast, served as the judges for the culinary side of the competition. This is what the conversation is like when judging student preparations, knowing the outcome is a potential trip to Europe:
(tasting a soup)
Bentz: Do you think it’s a bit bland?
Tholen: Mm hm.
Bentz. It’s got a great flavor. It’s a bit thick. Pasty.
Tholen: It doesn’t have the level of fish flavor it should have. I didn’t get any fish. I got lots of potatoes and carrots. Close your eyes and take a sniff. Does that smell like fish to you?
(tasting an appetizer)
Bentz: (leans over and sniffs deeply)
Tholen: It’s good. I like that.
Bentz: I’m getting a lot of good things here.
Tholen: It’s almost too spicy, but it’s just right. If you get a habanero, it lights you up.
Bentz: Very fresh.
(tasting a main dish)
Bentz: I don’t like that knife cut. It’s all ragged looking. Sharpen the knife. It’s cooked nicely. Perfectly medium.
Tholen: I love the flavors. They just really balance well. We’ve got a lot to (taste), so we’ve got to slow down. But that one’s worth eating the whole way.
(tasting a different main dish)
Bentz: Is that polenta done, chef?
Tholen: No, and I just bit into a chunk of raw garlic.
Bentz: That’s never good.
Tholen: It wasn’t.