Students compete in cooking competition for chance to study abroad

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FORT WAYNE — Nine hospitality administration students in Ivy Tech Community College Fort Wayne’s culinary and baking and pastry arts programs competed in the 22nd annual European Competition Jan. 11 for the chance to win a scholarship that would fund a trip to study culinary arts in France this spring.

Cheryl Hitzemann, instructor of baking and pastry arts, served as a judge in the kitchen.

Baking and pastry arts students were given four-and-a-half hours to prepare items including plated chocolate and fruit desserts, yeast bread and rolls, and a decorated cake. Earlier that week, students drew random cake orders to fill.

“To get everything done, they have to have good time management skills,” Hitzemann said. “They can’t stand there and wait for their bread to rise; they have to get started on their desserts. They have to pay attention to the time.”

Kitchen judges watched and rated students as they worked, paying attention to technique and ability. Hitzemann said she was watching for sanitation, time management, how neat the contestants were working and how they handle stress.

“We’ve had people (walk out) and cry and then come back and they’re good,” she laughed. “They just take a minute and calm down.”

The pressure the students feel is understandable, she added.

“It’s for a lot.”

In addition to the chance to win a scholarship, the competition is also their practical exit exam. The competition mimics what it’s like to work in a real bakery, Hitzemann said.

Culinary students prepared a meal with an appetizer; an entrée with a protein, vegetable and starch; and a dessert. At the beginning of the competition, each contestant received a “mystery basket.”

In the past, they would each receive different ingredients, but that wasn’t exactly fair, hospitality administration instructor Meshele Wyneken said. Rather than give each student mystery ingredients like kimchi or cotton candy, they get a surprise vegetable.

“They have a vegetable that is a mystery. They have no idea what it’s going to be,” she said.

Each contestant worked with the same proteins — chicken and dover sole. They had 30 minutes to come up with a menu. Students used a variety of techniques from steaming the fish in parchment paper to braising. Wyneken, who served as a kitchen judge, also judged their knife skills as they processed the chicken and fish.

“The opportunity to go to Europe is tremendous,” she said.

The trip is an opportunity to learn from international chefs, eat at excellent restaurants and drink fine wine, she added.

Tasting judges blind tasted the completed meals. They judged dishes by taste as well as presentation. Judges based their scores on American Culinary Federation criteria, and in order to be considered for the France trip, students must place at bronze standard or higher.

The winners who will be traveling to France are Brennan Simpson, Dallas Yurt, Mary Cox, Kayla Wyckoff, Brianna Bertsch, Sandra Brickley and Carl Dalrymple.

Based on students’ experience in France, they will create the menu for this year’s A Reason to Taste, Ivy Tech’s largest annual fundraiser. Money raised at A Reason to Taste funds scholarships for the winning students’ European trips.

Students who did not qualify or cannot make the France trip will still receive a travel opportunity: a road trip to Vermont for a farm-to-fork tour in May. On the trip, students will have experiences including a tour of the Baird Farm, an organic maple syrup farm; a chance to watch cheese-making; learning how to milk a cow; and a visit to King Arthur Flour headquarters.