Chefs win silver medal at culinary competition

Jerry Byers, associate manager of dining in Paresky, proudly shows his medal while serving students dinner on Feb. 11. (Photo courtesy of The Berkshire Eagle)
Jerry Byers, associate manager of dining in Paresky, proudly shows his medal while serving students dinner on Feb. 11. (Photo courtesy of The Berkshire Eagle)

A team of chefs from Dining Services took home a silver medal at the American Culinary Federation Culinary Conference and Competition at Skidmore on Jan. 10.

The competition, now in its third year, attracts teams from eight colleges and universities in the Northeast region as well as a country club and a restaurant. The competition is limited primarily to colleges and universities in part by the registration fee of $600. The College has competed since its inception and this year sent a team of Jim Butler, cook at Whitman’s Dining; Miguel Gutierrez, lead bartender at the ’82 Grill; Michael A. Militello, snack bar attendant; and Jerry Byers, associate manager of Whitmans’ Dining. Executive Chef of Dining Services Mark Thompson selected the team from a group of Dining Services employees who expressed interest in competing.

The first day of competition required the team to build a menu around a basket of ingredients, gathering all other supplementary ingredients within an hour. This year’s basket included king crab legs, duck, pork belly, monkfish tail, Brussels sprouts, Nero di Toscana kale, tricolor carrots, trumpet mushrooms, amaranth, pears, blood oranges, cranberries, dried apricots and pecans. The team devised a menu in 15 minutes, paying special attention to how each course worked with the others. The following dishes appeared on the team’s menu: sweet potato puree with king crab, celeriac and parsnip cream and micro cilantro; sautéed mushrooms with Brussels sprouts and pork belly bacon for the appetizer course; and pan-seared duck breast with tricolor carrots, amaranth polenta with apricots and pecans, a fruit gastrique and sautéed Nero di Toscana kale as the entrée. The team also prepared blackened monkfish tail with a roasted poblano pepper salsa verde as a fourth course suitable for a buffet. By coordinating each member’s expertise in various ethnic cuisines, the team played to each chef’s culinary strengths.

“We all just sat down at a table and planned our menu,” Byers said. “We didn’t bring a pastry chef so we went with the soup course. We thought about what we knew how to do and played to our strengths … We figured out what everyone was going to cook and clean the night before and went into the competition with that.”

The chefs had two hours to prepare the first three courses of their menu and 15 minutes to plate their dishes. The team then had another hour to prepare its buffet item. Four certified American Culinary Federation master chefs oversaw and judged the competition. The College’s team improved on its bronze medal finishes from the last two competitions, losing only six points in the first three courses and receiving a perfect score for the blackened monkfish, good for a silver medal and just shy of gold. Cornell, Skidmore and The Country Club of Chestnut Hill won gold in the three events.

On Feb. 11, Dining Services offered the award-winning menu for dinner at Whitmans’ Dining.

“It was awesome,” Byers said. “The food was fantastic. We served about 550 students that night and several outside guests who came in as well.”

The competition and Whitmans’ dinner offered these chefs a great opportunity to showcase their talent, especially given the recent changes in how Dining Services approaches the demands of feeding the College.

“The budget is a big restriction,” said Byers. “We get to do special dinners sometimes but not usually anything as fancy as this. [This] dinner was far more expensive to make than anything we usually do. Also, over the last year and a half we’ve had to do everything by the book. You can’t just add something to a recipe now because then the information on Net Nutrition won’t be accurate and that’s important for dietary restrictions, allergens and nutritional information. Measuring spoons are part of the uniform now and for someone who’s been making the same things here for years and cooking for even longer it’s frustrating to have to measure everything. You can still be creative here, but you have to submit a recipe in advance and that certainly makes it more challenging.”