Saturday, February 28, 2009

SCCC cooks compete at regional event (Schenectady County, Niskayuna)

SCCC cooks compete at regional event (Schenectady County, Niskayuna)

Posted on: 02/10/09
Jackie Sher

This weekend students from Schenectady County Community College’s Culinary Arts program will compete head-to-head in a competition not of culinary skill, but of the mind.

Four SCCC students will head to the American Culinary Federation’s Northeast Region H. Galand Culinary Knowledge Bowl Competition, held Feb.7 to 9 in Boston.

“They need to understand all of the definitions ranging anywhere from nutrition, sanitation, culinary basics, baking basics, as well as classical French cooking,” said Christopher Allen Tanner, chef instructor at SCCC and head coach of the team.

Participants had to memorize facts from five culinary textbooks including Escoffier’s “Le Guide Culinaire,” “Culinary Fundamentals,” “Baking Fundamentals,” and a book on management, which is produced by the National Restaurant Association.

The road to the competition has been taxing on the participants.

“They practice three days a week, three to five hours a day,” said Tanner. “They go through a grueling process of getting quizzed by me on the different topics.”

And that’s only when they’re all together. Participants are also expected to practice on their own. The four team members, who were selected from about a dozen applicants, all work full time and also attend school full time.

Many have little time to eat the food they’re studying so much about.

“I work about 55 hours a week at Creo, and I’m the head pastry chef here so I’m in charge of two other students who go to Schenectady County Community College as well,” said Jose Arteche III, team captain. “Then on top of that I go to school full time, but generally I stick to four classes but that’s still four days a week that I physically drive to school.”

Arteche said that one of the challenges of preparing for the competition has been learning French terms.

“Trying to remember French words when you haven’t really taken a French class is tough,” said Arteche. “We’re trying to guess in our minds what the actual words sound like. All of the questions will be read verbally so we have to really listen carefully to all of the questions.”

He said that he and his teammates are used to reading the phrases and words — not hearing them.

This is the first time Schenectady County Community College has participated in the competition in more than 10 years.

Team members include Arteche of Colonie, Valerie Inman of Watervliet, Daniel Sala of Watervliet, Lisa Valentine of Clifton Park, and Evan Weissman of Saratoga Springs. They will compete against students from Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to take home the Northeast Regional title. The winners will go on to compete in the national competition held at the American Culinary Federation’s national convention in Orlando in July.

The questions asked during the competition will be very specific.

“They need to know all the primal cuts that are found in a beef cattle and what can be done with them. They need to know the proper techniques or the amount of time to wash your hands underneath sinks before you work in a kitchen. They need to know different laws on sanitation, as well as management laws,” said Tanner.

Students might have to name the two species of fish that Escoffier recommends using for fish stock (sole and whiting), and they might have to specify the type of gas that is employed in the flour bleaching process (chlorine gas).

However, despite the endless number of facts participants must commit to memory, they and their coach are excited and have enjoyed the process.

“If anything, this has expanded my knowledge in culinary arts. I can now point things out in recipes and menus that I wouldn’t have known otherwise,” said Arteche.
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