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Cooking toward success

March 19, 2011
By Cindy Votruba

MARSHALL - Getting ready for this kind of competition was like taking an extra college course in culinology.

But for four culinology students at Southwest Minnesota State?University, it was worth the effort.

An SMSU culinology presentation team took top honors at the Research Chefs Association Student Culinology Competition March 3-5 in Atlanta, Ga. The team was made up of KayLee Ryker of Jeffers, Chad Woelfle of Isle, Ashley Moore of Sioux Falls, S.D., and Stephanie Grau of Ankeny, Iowa. Subash Yadav of Nepal also accompanied the team.

The team won $5,000 for the culinology program with its entry "Grandma's peach cobbler with buttermilk ice cream."

Moore said she and Ryker had attended the competition last year, wanting to enter.

"We knew we wanted to be a team, but we had to find two other people to do it," Moore said.

Although the competition has been in existence for five years, this is the first year SMSU has entered a team. Michael Cheng, SMSU culinology program director, said he waited until he "made sure he had the right team."

Cheng said 24 teams sent proposals for the competition in which six finalists were selected.

This was the first year the competition went in a different direction. Cheng said the target for this year's competition was the food service market instead of the consumer market.

Cheng said the team spent "a ton of hours" working on its presentation plan since September.

"An average of 10 to 15 hours a week since September," Cheng said.

"It was like adding extra classes to our schedule," Grau said.

Moore said they had to decide what they wanted to create with the main ingredient, peaches.

"We mostly did a lot of variations of cobbler," Moore said.

The team members tried to figure out what flavor combinations would make the right recipe for them. Moore said a couple of the "weirdest" combinations they tried was one with black pepper and one with basil.

"(They were) really extreme ideas we wouldn't actually do, but would lead us to the right combination,"?Grau said.

They finally decided on brown sugar and pecans because it complemented the southern style they were going for. Grau said the hardest part was finding the right formula for the commercialized version of the product.

Cheng said the team wanted to make the dessert stand out as well.

"We didn't want to use plain old vanilla ice cream," Cheng said. So the team came up with the concept of using buttermilk ice cream.

Cheng said the Schwan Food Co. also offered assistance in preparing for the competition.

"We worked with the corporate chef, R and D (Research and Development), they helped us with making commercial ice cream and the packaging," Cheng said.

Cheng said his team sized up the competition.

"We looked at prior competitors and what their strengths were," Cheng said. "We decided our strength should depend on the culinary aspect of it."

Teams made the dish six weeks before the competition and sent the frozen product to Atlanta. The six finalists had to compete onsite in Atlanta. By then, it was too late to change any concepts, Cheng said.

SMSU was up against defending champions Johnson and Wales University of Providence, R.I. Other teams included the University of Minnesota, Louisiana State University and Mississippi State University.

"We decided we're going to do the best we can," Cheng said.

Moore said the schedule for the competition only two teams in the kitchen at the same time and got to see the University of Louisiana team in action.

"They were putting their fried ice cream in liquid nitrogen," Moore said.

And when the SMSU team learned it won the competition, the members were jubilant, Moore said.

"I cried, and actually for me, it's pretty unbelievable," Moore said. "Pretty emotional, it was a lot of hard work."

"I was just like in shock,"?Grau said. "It was amazing for us to get into the finals...but to get first place was totally unexpected."



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