The CINY Competition Team’s Trip to Kansas for the Regional Qualifier
Monroe College's competition team recently had a huge undertaking with a trip to Kansas for the American Culinary Federation Qualifier. For the first time ever, regardless of region, the top four scores for each competition move forward. In previous years, it was by region. A total of 15 people traveled, as the Core Five brought with them their Support 5 team that has been with them every step of the way in their journey. Two Student Chef of the Year contenders in seniors Thomas Bradburn and Jeovanny Adames, who both competed and won last year's National Student Team Competition with their team, came back for more. Both Dean Costantino and assistant coach Eric Pellazzari, as well as team helper and Thomas's apprentice, Frank Costantino Jr., also accompanied the team.
Day one of the competition saw all eight teams compete throughout the day, and Team Captain Melina Sosa drew number eight, making Monroe the closer. At the same time, Thomas and Jeo had their part one of their competitions, featuring a knife skills tray and chicken fabrication. Student Pastry Chef Venessa Ruiz had a big day as well, as she was not only on the Core Five as the Pastry Chef but also competing solo in her Student Pastry Chef of the Year Competition. Vanessa, much like the SCOY competitors, had a competition with two parts. Not long after the window closed for her and the team, her window for pastry skills opened, forcing a quick turnaround.
On the following day, as the team competition was all wrapped up and results were given out, the SCOY and PSCOY competitors did their best with their dishes. The dish accounted for half of their score, with their skills from day one making up the other half.
The Core Team had a really solid training camp that had some ups and downs. Going into Kansas, their last score received was a 93 at a practice session, which was their highest by far, giving them a huge confidence boost on the day of. All five members worked in a row. On the hot side, Team Captain Melina Sosa handled the entire stove and oven, with Mikayla Pabroada on Knife Cuts and helper position. Splitting the line in half, Indio Alvarado worked on fabrication. The cold side had Tatiana Torres on the salad course and Vanessa Ruiz on dessert. This competition was an hour and twenty minutes, with the plating window being twenty minutes. As soon as the plating window opened, the ideal scenario was to serve the appetizer course immediately, followed by the salad five minutes later, the entrée eight minutes later, and dessert right as the window was about to close. The team managed to serve each course on time. The dessert course was truly the highlight of their menu. As Judge Tom Recinella said, it might as well have been a perfect score of 40/40. All courses served were strong, and it clinched the team the championship by around three full points. Monroe came in first place with a silver medal score of 87.7, while second place was about an 84, and it was Joliet. Third place was AB Tech. This team couldn't have done it without the help of their support five team. As last year's team can attest, you can't do it alone. The support team consisted of Dakari Rone, Isabella Torres, Jaylene Cid, Nijae Lawrence, and Humza Hussein. They were there every step of the way.
Student Chef of the Year
The Student Chefs of the Year really gave their knife cuts and dishes their all. Results for the skills were never given. In fact, nobody other than the competitors and judges were able to see the knife skills at all. They didn't receive a critique on it either. They just had to go into the next day and do their dish to the best of their ability. Thomas and Jeo have both been working on their dishes since returning after Winter Break, and they really did some impressive work.
Thomas's dish has many Italian inspirations, but the highlight of the dish is his Pave chicken, which is a formed chicken breast layered with a forcemeat and chicken breast over and over until you get this beautifully layered and sous vide-composed chicken breast that he then breads and fries. Jeo's dish is heavily German-inspired, and the highlight of his dish is his Spaetzle with chicken paprikash, which is a style of sauce made with crème fraiche and paprika.
These two competitors poured their heart and soul into their dishes. However, their dishes weren't perfect. Jeo suffered from an overcooked roulade as well as some cold elements. Thomas Bradburn suffered from sanitation issues as well as seasoning issues. Having said that, their dishes looked and tasted fantastic, and the judges loved both concepts and both competitors. In the end, they both came in the top 12 with high bronze medals out of a pool of 22 competitors.
But I think Thomas Bradburn said it best when he said at that night's dinner, "Now that Jeo and I know what it's like to lose, the next thing we do is recover and come back stronger."
Student Pastry Chef of the Year
Finally, we have our Student Pastry Chef of the Year, and she is truly a trooper. She had to compete twice on the same day, along with the SCOY competitors. The pastry skills featured cookie making, cake decorating, and supremeing an orange. Nessa usually nails her skills, and this was no different here with one caveat. Her cookies and orange were perfect, and her cake decorating was good, but when it came to writing “Happy Birthday,” well, it definitely was not her birthday, as it looked more like “Bappy Smirthsday” than “Happy Birthday.” According to Nessa, her hand gave out towards the end due to the tension, and as time was closing, she rushed herself. The scary part is that this mistake alone cost her 10 out of 100 points of her total score, but we’ll see a major recovery soon after.
The next day was Nessa’s composed warm dessert, which featured a warm chocolate cake with a cocoa nib shortbread, warm muscovado streusel-crusted bananas, whipped ganache montee, piped milk chocolate ganache, banana and passionfruit compote, Don Papa Rum and Passionfruit gel, banana mascarpone sherbet, and a honey tuile. She executed this dish beautifully and secured her spot in third place with a high bronze in order to qualify for the competition in New Orleans, as well as with the team as they qualified too. Let it be clear, if she had written "Happy Birthday" correctly, it would have been an easy lock for first place.