Aspiring RRC chefs aim to represent Manitoba on national level

by Will Reimer

Director of CCFCC, Ronald Dobrinsky debriefs Saputo Junior Culinary Competition winner Christy Barkman.

Early in the morning on April 1, five young aspiring chefs faced off in the provincial Saputo Junior Culinary Challenge, hosted by the Canadian Culinary Federation of Cooks and Chefs and Red River College.

The competitors — three current Red River College students and two grads — had the morning to prepare a three-course meal, with each dish featuring chicken and a preselected cheese provided by Saputo. The winner would then move on to represent Manitoba at the national competition in Calgary in May.

Even though each contestant had three and a half hours before presenting their first course, the entire menu had to be prepared on-site, meaning there was no time to lose. The chefs worked quickly, while three kitchen judges watched them carefully.

“The contestants are going to want to get the chicken butchery out of the way first,” said organizer and instructor Michael Fitzhenry. “That way they can get it put away, and get their station sanitary once again.”

Fitzhenry noted that the judges are also looking for cooking efficiency. This includes checking to see how much meat is left on the bones, and if the pieces are being cut clean.

About one third of each contestant’s score was generated in the kitchen. Marks were based on organization, sanitation and cooking skill.

“We’re looking for good practices,” said judge and culinary instructor Terry Gereta. “They should be making sure meat is covered, preventing cross-contamination, even washing hands.”

Gereta points out that although it seems obvious, sanitation can sometimes be lost in high-pressure, fast-paced kitchen settings.

“We want the total package from the student,” said Gereta. “Everything from knife skills, to what’s being done with the waste. While one student might store something like little pieces of carrot for stock, another might use it right away, and that shows that they’ve planned a bit better.”

About two weeks prior to the competition, each chef had to submit a menu and a cooking timeline. During the contest, judges checked to make sure the chefs were following their timeline and following their initial plan.

The other two thirds of each competitor’s score was calculated by three separate tasting judges, who looked at timing, presentation and taste.

The final hour of the competition was a scramble to have each dish ready a half hour apart. By 12:30, the final plate had been placed in front of the judges, and the competitors could relax a little.

After totalling the judges scores, Fitzhenry announced that junior culinary student Christy Barkman had the highest score.

“I feel kind of stunned,” said Barkman. “Going into it I knew this was something different, this was something new, but I still felt like I could do it”

Barkman said the competition was something she has wanted to participate in since joining RRC’s culinary program last January.

Barkman will now go on represent Manitoba at the national convention on May 27 in Calgary.