"Chopped," NCC-Style

by Myra Saturen, photos by Patricia Canavan
July 03, 2012

How would you come up with a four-course meal using duck breast, striped bass, diver scallops, jasmine rice, spinach, haricot vert, shitake mushrooms, oranges, rhubarb, beets, acorn squash, andouille sausage, hearts of palm, sorrel, and red pepper?  Northampton Community College (NCC) culinary students discovered just these ingredients on "mystery trays," on July 3.  Out of these far-ranging foods, each contestant planned and created an appetizer, salad, entrée, and dessert.  

The prize for the top three contestants will be delicious; a week's all-expenses-paid trip to work in one of Emeril Lagasse's Louisiana restaurants.  The winners will be announced at the Lehigh Valley Food and Beverage Festival on August 18 and 19.  

The competition took place on July 2 and 3, in the Hampton Winds kitchen.  

Entries were judged according to creativity, taste and presentation.  Judges also looked for sanitary food handing; for example, whether students refrigerated protein foods promptly when not using them.  

The contest required students to be fast, decisive and imaginative, with each course presentation timed to the minute.  After about half-an-hour, savory aromas began to drift within the Hampton Winds kitchen, after students put pencils and plans away and started peeling, chopping, whisking, mixing, stirring, slicing, grating, and searing.  From the kitchen's pantry, students gathered other ingredients such as squid fish sauce, filo dough, honey clover, graham crumbs.  The clock ticked, and students juggled tasks in a controlled bustle.  

Choice engendered creativity.  With three protein-based foods on the mystery tray, students could and did choose to base an appetizer, salad or entrée on meat or fish.  One salad featured a seared scallop atop sorrel and spinach.  In others, andouille sausage and duck took the spotlight.  Duck crowned an entrée of stuffed acorn.  A semifreddo, a whipped cream-based dessert, held a surprise -- the unexpected inclusion of basil and sorrel.   

Contestants on July 3 included Tyler Baxter, Emily Heydt, Ben Kushner, Olivia Razzano, Tim Reilly, and Stephanie Stech.  

On the previous day, July 2, students worked with pork tenderloin, salmon fillet, crabmeat, fingerling potatoes, rainbow swiss chard, asparagus, plum tomatoes, ginger root, granny smith apple, spring mix, shelled edammame, red pepper, fresh corn, lemon, and jalapeno pepper.  Participants included Veronica Aucone, Damiana DiPilato, Dan Haddon, Rhianna Kneebone, Adrianna Norton, and Logan Terry.  

Susan Roth, associate professor of culinary arts, coordinated the contest.  Judges included Victor Bock, food and beverage manager and executive chef of the Sands Casino Hotel; Michael Wedderburn, executive sous chef of the Sands; and Shawn Doyle, CEC, chef/owner of the Savory Grille in Macungie. 

The judges complimented the students on their communication, organization, technique, flavor combinations, and time management. Still, they stressed constant self-improvement.  "What chefs do is impactful," said Chef Bock.  "Years later, people will remember what they ate at their anniversary dinner."    

See more of the contest in this Morning Call photo gallery, and a video about the competition from WFMZ-TV 69.


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