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Cook-off! Holy Cross students put culinary creativity to the test.

Byline: Barbara M. Houle

The last thing we want to hear before we sit down to judge food is, "Hope you're hungry. There's plenty to eat."

Our first reaction: "Oh, no. Does this outfit have an expandable waist?"

Well, as expected, there was "plenty to eat" at the "Iron Chef"-style cooking competition held last Wednesday at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, but Linda Nardella, director of the Holy Cross dining service, thankfully, knew the drill and served us small portions.

"How many contestants?" asked Jim Nicas of The Castle Restaurant in Leicester, one of four judges.

"Six," said Nardella.

Whew! The numbers work.

Hey, it's better than 36 entries.

The Student Government Association and dining services at the college were hosts for the first Kimball Kreations event, a cooking competition modeled after the Food Network's "Iron Chef." Competitors had 30 minutes to use ingredients found in Kimball Dining Hall that night to create their best dish. It all happened during the campus dinner rush, and the adrenaline quickly pumped in.

Each contestant prepared two portions of their entree - one for judges, the other for presentation. Not an easy task when you're standing at a communal dining table tossing ingredients together while students eat, talk and gawk at you.

Emily Thigpen, SGA student services director and an organizer of the event, said the idea of the contest was to show just how accessible the college dining facility is. Students sometimes look for something to eat in Kimball Hall that's not on the menu, she said. Contestants and dishes:

Julianne L. Kulevich, class of 2008: BBQ Pulled Chicken Sandwich with sides of Potato Salad and Tri-Colored Vegetable Medley; Francis C. Walek, class of 2009: Chickyin and Yang Hamburger; Catherine D. Charpentier, class of 2008: Semolina Pasta With Citron-Garlic Legumes and Chicken; Brian M. Miller, class of 2009: Sloppy Roast Beef Sandwich With Sauce; Erin K. Clougherty, class of 2010: Tex-Mex Style Pasta; Jessica S. Jackson, class of 2009: Stir-Fry Nachos.

"I don't know if I would have been brave enough to enter a contest like this when I was a freshman," said Nicas, owner of The Castle and an alumnus of Holy Cross. "The kids have guts."

We'll say.

Holy Cross isn't exactly the CIA (Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.).

The event was so well organized that the judging went fairly quickly. Each competitor was on the hot seat during our critiques. The budding chefs rattled on about themselves and their entrees, while we scored dishes for presentation, creativity, ingredient compatibility, timing and flavor, taste and texture.

We're not at CIA? This is heavy duty judging.

The scores were tallied and Clougherty with Tex-Mex Style Pasta was declared the winner. She's a longtime viewer of the Food Network, and as a Nutrition, Exercise and Eating Disorder peer educator she said she has been exposed to many styles of cooking. She is very conscious of healthy eating choices, she said. Her true love of food and a passion for baking and cooking inspired her to enter the contest, she said. Her intention was "to demonstrate to the Kimball criticizers at Holy Cross that all the ingredients are available, it is just a matter of being creative at putting them together."

Tex-Mex Style Pasta includes cavatappi pasta, salsa, corn, ham, Parmesan cheese, shredded Mexican cheese, tortilla chips and cilantro. The ham is sliced into bite-size pieces and combined with salsa and corn. The mixture goes over cooked pasta sprinkled with Parmesan and shredded cheese. The dish is microwaved until cheese melts. Crushed tortilla chips and cilantro go on top before serving. Corn bread goes on the side.

Clougherty received $250 Crusader dollars, money that can only be used on campus, for taking first prize.

Kulevich won second place; Charpentier and Jackson were tied for third. Miller and Walek won silver. Only a fraction of points separated the contestants. Kevin Leggio, a SGA freshman intern of services presented the idea of having a recipe book for students that will include all the dishes from the competition.

Other judges included the Rev. Michael C. McFarland S.J., president of Holy Cross and Frank Vellaccio, senior vice president of the college.

Bring on the next contest. We're ready. We just hope it will be as much fun as this one.

ARTl: PHOTOS

CUTLINE: (1) Holy Cross students Julianne L. Kulevich of Maynard and Francis C. Walek plate their dishes inside Kimball Dining Hall during an "Iron Chef"-style cook-off. (2) Catherine D. Charpentier, left, and Christine Guittar, general manager of Kimball Dining Hall at College of the Holy Cross, put Charpentier's dish on the table for presentation. (3) Erin K. Clougherty, right, talks to judges about her Tex-Mex Style Pasta at the cooking competition held at College of the Holy Cross. Linda Nardella, left, director of dining services at the college, gets ready to plate food for judges. Clougherty's dish won first place.

PHOTOG: RICH DUGAS
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Title Annotation:LIVING
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 16, 2008
Words:827
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