Conference Tests Chefs' Skills

Saratoga Springs, NY (by Doug Gruse, PostStar) - Ten teams of culinary professionals competed for the gold Friday at Skidmore College as part of the American Culinary Federation Conference and Competition, an annual event drawing chefs from across the region.

Now in its third year, the program, organized by the ACF Glens Falls chapter and Skidmore Dining Services, offers three days of professional development, networking and a cooking tournament.

“It is important to hold this event at Skidmore College each year because it is a wonderful opportunity to showcase our beautiful campus and all of the talent that we have here, both within the management team and our full-time employees,” said Mark Miller, the director of Skidmore’s Dining Services and coordinator of the event. “We are always looking to raise the bar when it comes to the presentation of food and the attention to detail.”

The culmination of the conference each year is the ACF-sanctioned chef’s challenge, which requires each four-person team to follow strict industry standards as it prepares a four-course meal, including a buffet platter. The majority of competitors work for college and university dining services, and the event encourages the culinary teams to enhance their standard repertoire and develop new skills.

This year’s teams were University of New Hampshire Dining Services; Cornell University; State University of New York at Albany; Stonebridge Restaurant of Milford, Conn.; Ithaca College; Indiana University of Pennsylvania Academy of Culinary Arts; St. Lawrence University; Williams College; the Country Club of Chestnut Hills in Chestnut Hill, Mass.; and Skidmore College.

The evening before the cooking competition, the teams received a mystery “market basket” with ingredients that had to be featured in their menu preparations.

For protein, the chefs were given a whole duck, Alaskan king crab legs, monkfish and pork belly. Additional ingredients included amaranth, sweet potatoes, Nero di Toscana kale, celeriac, Brussels sprouts, trumpet mushrooms, tri-colored carrots, Bosc pears, dried apricots, blood oranges, cranberries and pecans.

Beginning at 6 a.m. Friday at the school’s Murray-Aikins Dining Hall, the teams cooked in rounds, with two teams cooking during each two-hour session. The chefs were given 15 minutes to plate the food before judging.

In the afternoon, the teams had one hour, plus 15 minutes for plating, to complete a buffet platter that could feed 10 people and two show plates, one for the tasting judges and one for photos.

The Skidmore team, which cooked during the first morning time slot, included Frank Esposito, Paul Karlson, Kelly Zimmerman and Scott Carey.

Karlson, who was part of the school’s culinary team for the second time in the annual competition, felt confident when he saw the contents of the market basket.

“I personally love duck, and I knew exactly what to do with it,” he said.

Carey was pleased with the variety of ingredients allotted.

“It was a good mix of things. There were a lot of different flavors and options,” Carey said.

The biggest challenge, according to both Skidmore cooks, was the amaranth, an ancient grain that was once a staple food of the Aztecs.

“The amaranth was something I didn’t expect, but we fought through it,” Casey said.

Karlson found the monkfish, once considered “trash” seafood, also to be a bit of a surprise.

“I’ve cooked it once or twice, but it cooked up pretty nicely for me in the competition. It’s taking off in the

culinary world, so it’s good we got to play with it,” he said.

To increase the challenge, each team could only use four butane burners to prepare the main course of their menu. Exceptions were allowed for desserts, which could incorporate use of an oven or freezer in preparation.

Judges for the competition included Dale Miller, Noble Masi, Fritz Sonnenschmidt, Victor Sommo, James G. Rhoads III and Michael Morgan. The veteran chefs rated the plates on originality, taste and presentation.

Dale Miller, the lead judge for the competition, views the annual challenge as a good opportunity for food professionals from the region.

“It gives our chefs the ability to hone their skills and be judged on guidelines that are based on the strictest international rules and standards,” Dale Miller said.

Teams had the opportunity to receive either a gold, silver or bronze medal, based on the scores received during judging.

“This is my third year of judging, and the skills portrayed this year have grown exponentially from the last two years,” Dale Miller said. “Out of 10 competing teams, we had three gold medals, six silver medals and one bronze medal. That’s amazing.”

The Skidmore College team received the second-highest score and was awarded a gold medal. The Country Club of Chestnut Hill, another gold medal winner, received the overall highest marks.

“I feel the Skidmore team did exceptionally well this year, and it is the first time we have won gold — but it certainly is not the last,” Mark Miller said.

Winning teams

American Culinary Federation Conference & Competition at Skidmore College winners:

The Country Club of Chestnut Hill: Gold Medal

Skidmore College: Gold Medal

Cornell University: Gold Medal

Ithaca College: Silver Medal

The University of New Hampshire: Silver Medal

State University of New York at Albany: Silver Medal

Williams College: Silver Medal

St. Lawrence University: Silver Medal

The Stonebridge Restaurant: Silver Medal

Indiana University of Pennsylvania/Academy of Culinary Arts: Bronze Medal

See photos here:

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