Competing and the Orlando Culinary Cup Experience.

September 21, 2011

This is a very informative and strong piece from Chef Patrick Kilduff who works for our Boston team at TD Garden. He recently competed down in Orlando and the lessons he learned are important to share. We will be posting a number of thoughts on this competition in the next few days.

It’s funny that Chef Kevin and I got started competing in hot and cold food. It’s a good thing I listen and listen well – because I’ve been able to learn from the mistakes that other chefs and Chef Kevin have made in their earlier competitions and transform that into medals for my 12 competitions (even a high silver in a cold food platter that I put together on a Friday and worked 30 straight hours to present on Sunday morning at the Boston competition). I truly believe Chef Kevin is a great teacher and leader. I like the friendly competition that we have to see who can get the most medals or even when six master chefs have tasted the dressing I made and said the salad was OK but when we got to the dressing it blew the salad out of the park… But, Chef Kevin still trumps me with the IKA medal. I think such friendly competition between the chefs makes for a growing team willing to learn. It’s when you don’t have this that you become stagnant.

I asked Chef Kevin three years ago if we could enter the super challenge. We got busy and had no time to do much of anything between working the Celtics and Bruins playoffs – TD Garden is nonstop. Chef being chef, he said, “what the heck” and sought permission from above and was given the green light for 2011. We started drafting menus and recipes. I look back at this experience and remember something that was said to me by the people at Ideas In Food. It was Alex Talbot who said, “we as the creators will need to place a scale and document there every move.”

We started measuring and scaling and finally had a rough draft of our recipes for the competition. The time was to put this together for pictures. As always, we are last minute for things – (not that we try to be) – it’s the nature of a championship building and pop up VIP parties every day.

To kick off practice, we set some tables outside the Legends kitchen and set five induction burners for the effect of cooking on electric. This was interesting as we needed to establish our timing for searing and boiling. It went well and we were able to get a timeline and plates out with food that tasted good. We sat back and revised some things for the next practice and updated some timelines. For our second practice, we set up again and created timelines, packed the refrigerator up and we were off. This practice was a bit different and we noticed a bit more flow as our timelines kept us on track and we were not guessing about what’s going on and who is doing what. We could look at the master sheet and see we were behind or we were ahead. It was time to pack it up and take the show on the road at the Le Cordon Bleu College in Cambridge.

This time, Chef Kevin reached out to Chef Roland Henin, CMC, to help get us to the next level along with Dan Duman, CMC, and Robert Mancuso, CMC. This was just like the real deal. We had adjusted even more, knowing that play time was over and we did not want to waste their time. So, Chef Roland had a small meeting with us and let us know his feelings and thoughts on this competition as it was bigger than the usual ones we had competed in. He informed us of how organized we needed to be. He drew diagrams of kitchens, set up spaces and created timelines for each of us. He even talked to us about getting to know the “lay of the land” once we got to Orlando. This proved to be a great idea. This planning and many hours of planning proved to be a great benefit as we watched the other teams set their kitchens and flip flop around as they weren’t prepared…

Cooking Day for us came on Sept. 9, 2011 at 6 a.m. We arrived at 4 a.m. with a U-Haul that had our equipment packed inside. We unloaded the truck. Chef Kevin had rented to Queen Mary’s that we had build and stocked the night before and shrink wrapped and placed on the truck. There was food in the cooler that was labeled in course order (1-4). Road boxes on the sidelines were set with electric burners, robo coup, a blender and an appropriate extension cord. The judges looked and knew we were ready. They knew if there kitchen did not work we had plan and could execute if we needed to. We had a full diagram of the kitchen and how we were going to utilize tables and ovens. We even had diagramed plates for all the courses. We left nothing to chance.

The time came for us to set the kitchen and with a simple pull of Chef Kevin’s duct tape, we had the diagram on the wall and we looked like a ballet act, smooth and precise – just the way we drew and set it up. We also duct taped a clock on the refer door set to the judges clock. Now, it was time to cook. We moved in unisons and never crossed each other. We only spoke when we needed to ask for something. We had no hidden agenda for the judges to rip us apart. They watched and left. Looking to see where they went – they went to the next team that was struggle to keep their kitchen clean and in order. We cooked for our five hours then took our heat lamp and hot plate out while we lined the table with table cloth. Chef Kevin and I started plating the first course and Chef Liz and the student helping us started on the second course which had several components. Chef Kevin and I started on the entrée. We made our window – hot food, hot food, cold food, cold – clean up and wait for restaurant service.

The floor judges came over (Chef James Hanyzeski, CMC, and Chef David Turcotte, CEC) and told us we did very well and that they liked how we worked as a team and that they could not find any problems with the kitchen and sanitation. They did however want to know if we had used an oven thermometer to make sure we had the correct temperature. This was one thing we did not pack. Also the judges thought the electric range I had kept them on was a waste of energy. Next, the tasting judges wanted in.

An excellent group of three Master Chefs (Chef Klaus Friedenreich, CMC, Joeseph Deker, CMPC, and I can’t remember the last one). I said to myself, “this will be interesting” as they started in with a breath of fresh air. They tried to savor the flavors and textures. Their only real comment came on our duck empanada as they would have liked us to be have made a nice dough. They liked the salad but when they added the dressing – they said it was amazing. They also thought our dessert could have benefitted from a tart component to take away from all the sweet. All in all, they had few suggestions and we received rave reviews. It was a good day. Did I mention we only slept one hour the night before?

The next day, we watched other teams cook and we concentrated our attention on Chef Kevin Walker, CMC, and his team. This was the team to beat. We watched and watched and we learned amazing things just from watching.

With the cooking over, it was time for the awards ceremony. Nine teams in all as they called the teams from lowest score to highest, we knew we were in the top four just based on what we had seen. They called the fourth team – not us. They called the third team – not us. Then they called the 2nd place team – Delaware North Companies with a Gold Medal and a score of 36.89. We were in shock. Some members of our team had never competed before – it was all a great experience.