By Myra Saturen
May 16, 2014
It's 8:15 a.m., and Anthony Valdez is speed-chopping okra. Abbey Fehnel is tackling a red stalk of rhubarb, picturing how she could transform it into an upside-down cake. Meanwhile, Jason Seekins is probing and slicing a duck, with duck breast and sauce in mind.
Taking a whole duck, diver scallops, Andouille sausage, rhubarb, lovage, ginger, miso paste, quinoa, okra, oranges, pecans, and Swiss chard, these Northampton Community College (NCC) culinary students and five of their classmates would have to create an appetizer, salad, entrée, and dessert for judging by 11:30, 12:00, 12:45, and 1:15. The phenomenal prize? The chance for a week-long, all-expenses-paid trip to New Orleans, working at Emeril's New Orleans, NOLA and Delmonico restaurants.
Students took on the challenge on May 16 at the College's student-run Hampton Winds Restaurant, improvising from the given ingredients and whatever else they could find in the kitchen. Creativity, taste and presentation, judged by Stacy Calles of Emeril's Chophouse, Victor Bock of the Sands and Shawn F. Doyle of Savory Grill, would determine the winners.
Scallops starred in many of the appetizers, prepared in remarkably varied ways, with sauces, accompaniments, seasonings, and Andouille sausage. Salads were an intense array of required ingredients and kitchen findings, such as fruits, presented with artistry. Entrées showcased versatility of culinary technique. Duck emerged from the kitchen sautéed, grilled, atop a bed of quinoa. Desserts made a grand finale, with complex, layers of sweet and savory elements. Tarts with pudding and candied pretzels, a crisp of peach and blueberries, a confection with curry: these were only a few.
The previous day, hospitality management students displayed sophisticated wine skills, competing for the opportunity to work alongside chefs, sommeliers and restaurant managers in three of Lagasse's restaurants. The contestants ( all of whom were old enough to serve alcoholic beverages) moved among five stations, uncorking their ability to identify wine through blind tastings, professionally serve wine, pair food and wine, read labels, and demonstrate knowledge of grape varietals and wine trends. They were judged on their professionalism, preparedness and knowledge. Like the culinary contestants, the winners will have the opportunity for an externship at Emeril's New Orleans restaurants, all expenses paid. The externships are being made possible through the generosity of Chris and Diane Martin.
The winners of both competitions will be announced by Chef Emeril Lagasse on May 30 at the Lehigh Valley Food and Wine Festival.
Several community partners assisted with the wine contest: they are Frank Romano, Sands Resort & Casino; Mike Stershic, Discover Lehigh Valley; Rebecca Pichetto, 3rd & Ferry Fish Market; Bradley Wilson, Vintage Restaurant at the Club at Morgan Hill; Tonia Lynn, Lehigh Country Club; Elaine Pizinski, Franklin Hills Vineyard and Linda Rice, Mountain View Vineyard Winery & Distillery, and NCC staff members Denise Holub and Michele Pappalardo.
Taking part in the culinary contest were Steven Brett, Abbey Fehnel, Michael Jefferson, Wilmer Ramirez, Komal Shah, Jason Seekins, and Anthony Valdez. Participants in the wine contest included Valerie Barnes, Adrianna Norton, Anna Novak, and Rosaline Rubin.
A portion of the proceeds raised from NCC's Food and Wine Festival help give NCC students these valuable learning experiences, which will help them compete in the national market.
Check out more photos from the culinary competition on Flickr!
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