MARSHALL?- Students from 16 area schools gathered in Southwest Minnesota State University's Recreational /Athletic facility to compete in the culinary arts and learn from recognized experts.
The eighth annual Culinary Skills Challenge, co-sponsored by the SMSU Culinology Department and the Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative featured competitions in various categories of food preparation, aesthetic presentation of food, marketing food products, and kitchen skills.
"It's a really great exposure to the culinary industry for them," said Michael Cheng, director of the hospitality and culinary programs at SMSU. "We've always been strong supporters of the hospitality and culinary arts and having this competition helps increase awareness of these arts in the state. We also like to show these students there's something beyond high school."
Photo by Steve Browne
Russell-Tyler-Ruthton High School students Alex Schwing, Travis King and Michael Torkelson, along with RTR teacher Tammy Borman, got some tips after the hot food competition from Master Chef Christopher Dwyer Thursday. Thirteen students from Minneota, Worthington, and RTR competed in the category. “I’d hire any one of you for my restaurant,” Dwyer told the contestants.
Students who did not compete, or were between events, could learn in interactive sessions with established masters of their art.
Bob Sternke is a grilling specialist with True Value Hardware in Marshall who teaches at classes, demonstrations, and seminars. His presentations covered temperature control, food handling safety, and enhancing flavor with seasonings.
"The secret to good barbecue is controlled heat," Sternke said. "The biggest problem I hear of is too much heat. You want a glow, not a flame."
Yome Nguyen, a senior in the culinology department at SMSU, gave presentations on two of her projects involving creating new commercial food products, defining potential markets for them, and designing the packaging. For her first presentation she showed the development of a "gold standard" fajita dish as created in a kitchen, and its evolution to a commercial product. At her second presentation of the day she handed out samples of meat crisps, a new take on potato chips she came up with.
"The whole point of culinology is to recreate the gold standard and make it available to consumers," Nguyen said.
In some events, such as three categories of cake designing, students expressed their creative side with original designs. In others, students were given challenges to complete within a time limit.
"In the hot food competition students get a recipe and two hours to cook it on two butane burners," said Gail Polejewski, career development technician at SW/WC Service Cooperative and one of the organizers of the competition.
But culinology is much more than cooking.
Elizabeth Lindemer, who works with Schwan's Home Service, was one of the judges at the competition.
"Right now they're working on their knife skills," Lindemer said. "So we're looking for consistency, technique, safety, cleanliness. Just perfection, that's all we're after."
There were also categories for place settings and napkin folding and menu design.
Nikki Wennen is a sophomore in hospitality management at SMSU, and active in the Student Hospitality Organization that provided breakfast and lunch for the competition participants. This was her first time at the competition.
"It's pretty cool," Wennen said. "It's a chance for high school kids to get exposure to professionals and find out about opportunities in this field, and it's an awesome field."