Carrot ice cream and tableside cooked rabbit are just two of the menu items that a team of culinary students will make in Stuttgart, Germany, next year when they travel to the 2020 Culinary Olympics. They will represent the United States as the Junior National Team.
The team is led by Edward Adel, associate professor of hospitality management. He said cooking rabbit isn’t the challenge for his students.
“We challenge ourselves in every single thing that we do,” Adel said. “Sensitivity to temperature, proper cooking and production techniques, sanitation, those are, I think, the real challenges there.”
Teams from 59 different countries will travel to Germany for the competition, which will take place Feb. 14-19, 2020. The college will compete against 18 other Junior National Teams and will be judged on two separate menus: The “Restaurant of Nations,” a three-course menu for 60 people, and the “IKA Buffet,” which must serve 12.
Ryan Mitchell is a chef apprentice at the college and a member of the Junior National Team. He said his main worry at the competition is the time constraint.
“We have a five-hour limitation to our contest for each [menu],” Mitchell said. “We have to have every component done in [those] five hours.”
Melissa Dodd is also a chef apprentice at the college and the pastry chef for the Junior National Team. Dodd said she isn’t worried about time. Her concern, however, is that the high-stress environment could lead the team to burnout.
“The mental stability you need, it’s a lot,” Dodd said. “I don’t think the hardest part is cooking or flying or dealing with these guys [teammates]. It’s definitely the mental role.”
The college’s Junior National Team practices every Thursday at 6 a.m. Dodd said being on the team in addition to the culinary program at the college can create a lot of pressure.
“We all work 40 hours; we all go to school,” Dodd said. “I’m trying to graduate next year. I’ll be taking the CSC (Certified Sous Chef exam) at the same time we’re going to the Olympics. Sometimes we get a little burnt out and we have to remind ourselves that we went in for the passion.”
Mitchell said that the 6 a.m. practices include recipe development, in which the dishes the team will present at the Olympics constantly evolve. The team must keep in mind that the judges will look for dishes that represent their country of origin.
It may seem like the multicultural identity of the United States would be difficult to wrap into a menu. However, Adel said the United States has quality food resources that give the local touch judges want.
“You might not take a dish from the northeast and pair it with something from Louisiana,” Adel said. “But, if we take the regionality out of it and just look at the product, we use Alaskan halibut or Maine lobster, we’re using those products that are indigenous to the United States, that say we’re from the United States.”
Mitchell said he believes the teams’ recipes are representative of the United States because of the way the team tinkers with classic recipes. He gave an example of a teammate who is using sweet potato in his boulangère. This distortion of cuisine, however, isn’t always perceived well by the judges.
“If he called it a boulangère, they would be like, ‘that’s wrong,’” Mitchel said. “But, the essential idea behind it is American: taking something that’s classic and throwing our own twist on it.”
Dodd’s ice cream is another example of the risk-taking the United States’ Junior National Team hope will get them the gold.
“It’s a carrot themed dessert, which is risky,” Dodd said. “You could go with apple, you know, which is something that everyone already likes. It’s sweet and accompanies well with other things.”
However, Mitchell said Dodd’s carrot ice cream is his favorite recipe on their menu so far.
Every four years since 1900, the Culinary Olympics have taken place in Germany. At the centenary of the Culinary Olympics in 2000, John Joyce, former culinary professor, led the first Junior National Team from the college to a second-place victory.
In order to go far again in 2020, the new team must raise $85,000. So far, it is about one-third of the way there, Adel said.
To meet the goal, the team is doing monthly fundraiser dinners, and, in September of 2019, will begin a crowdfunding campaign. Dodd said the fundraising dinners get chaotic but give the team practice cooking for a crowd.
“I think it’s good for us,” Dodd said. “Bulk of 60, we should be practicing that. It’s not as simple as, ‘oh, you’ll do 10 today and be able to do 60 tomorrow.’”
Like many of the humanities, Adel said, he is frequently asked why so much money should go to a small group of students. The experience is important for several reasons, he said.
“We have the largest apprenticeship program in the nation,” Adel said. “As far as a culinary program, we’re [ranked] between 10 and 12. So we’re in the mix of the top ones.”
Students who graduate from the culinary program, which includes an apprenticeship alongside a working chef for 40 hours a week, go on to have successful careers, Adel said.
“This often helps them in industry success because of what they’re judged on,” Adel said. “The most dedicated students on the team are the most successful. We can look around the nation and they’re doing great things.”
Dodd agreed. She said competing gives her the chance to network with other chefs that could boost her career.
“It’s a really big networking opportunity,” Dodd said. “You not only meet people, but you create the contact.”
According to Adel, participating in an international competition brings the recognition the culinary program at the college needs to stay at the top.
Adel said, “We always put ourselves out there. That gives us a face, the college, out there, recognized at a national and international level.”