Written By Brock Kaltenbach, Hot Food Team Member
Northeast Regional competition in Verona, NY! The regional competition was on our minds from the moment we won state. How prepared we would be was entirely up to us. After one week of rest (if that’s what you call it), we continued to prepare using the advice from the judges on how to improve our score at the next competition. We felt good, but nervous.
Chef Hunt introduced his vision in the cold plate platter for the Garde Manager and we found ourselves in over our heads. Two of us had no experience in this area and the other three had minimal experience. Chef’s relentless attitude and determination to get us in line proved to be exactly what we needed. We spent the next several weeks developing, creating, and learning. We also sought assistance and guidance from Master Chef Handke and Master Chef Contrisciani along the way.
By the time it came to go to Verona, we were ready, relaxed and pretty confident that we were prepared for whatever regionals had to throw at us. The drive out was pretty calm other than the weather and wind pushing us all over the road! We arrived in the late afternoon and quickly checked into our rooms. We also unloaded our equipment and food into the casino’s coolers. Once we were back in our rooms, I started to imagine what we were going to need to do in order to prepare our room into a Garde Manager kitchen.
Plastic wrap. We needed plastic wrap. Plastic wrap covered everything—desks, dressers, walls, even the floor. We requested additional lamps from the hotel to have the necessary light in the room. We bought enough energy drinks and soda to keep a small army awake. Then, we dug in for the night. We set up a propane burner and began boiling our first pot of water. Amanda started prepping her galantine while Sara starting filing down her crackers to the right size and shapes. Rob was shining our boots for the next day while I was dipping our salad into gelatin. Hilary was cutting tourneys out of potatoes.
Chef Hunt paced nervously in his room after we kicked him out. We worked diligently throughout the night with a 6:30 am deadline. It felt like we got off to a great start, but things started to look out of reach around 5:00 am. I started to worry that we weren’t going to make it. I was exhausted and so was everyone else, so I took a moment to go check out our display table.
When I arrived at our table, I found that the Johnson & Wales team was working at their table with their coach watching closely nearby. I got back to the room and realized we were much closer to getting our platter together, but it was still going to be close. 6:00 rolled around and no platter…Everyone was working hard, but I didn’t think we were going to get it done. After only a few seconds of doubt, every one began plating and it started to come together. Just moments before I didn’t think it was possible, but within 10 minutes, our platters were together and ready to be taken to display.
The next step was the Hot Food portion, which is what we had been waiting for. Our positions had been determined the day before, so we drew for our skill and gave each other a friendly grin of confidence. The skills order was different from state, so I would be butchering the chicken last. I watched patiently as Hilary worked on the pastry cream, Amanda carved her way through the fish and Rob sliced and diced the veggies-until the power went out. After only a few minutes the power was back on and it was almost my time to perform. We were a few minutes behind when I started, but nobody panicked. I started cutting into the chicken while talking to Sara and everything seemed to be going right, but I couldn’t make up the time. We finished two minutes late. Other than time, we received great remarks on our work. We felt comfortable speaking with the judges and felt great going into the next stage.
Our cooking phase started off great. We set up our tables a little differently than before so that we could all move around it without too much difficulty. We were ready within minutes and were able to start getting each other pumped up and ready. A few CCI chants and then we started. I remember everyone joking around, laughing, and working fluidly with each other. We were getting close to plate up time and then we started to get a little serious. “Five minutes to your window,” I called out. “Five heard,” they replied. Plate set up started to develop. The plating didn’t go perfectly, but we muscled through it and got things done. We had our roughest moment as a team during plate up… What went wrong? What could we have done differently? We know the answers and that is all that matters. We learned and will pass it on to the next team.
What did we do right? Almost everything else! We made Chef Hunt proud. We represented CCI the best we could.
The next day at the Gala, we were awarded Third place and a silver medal. We were at the heels of CIA and Johnson & Wales. For me, I smell blood in the water and I want more. I will return for another year of competition. I have a goal to get further, to get gold, and to see that next level. I loved being a part of the 2013 team. It opened doors for me and now it is time to walk through them.