by Valery Jorgensen, Guest Writer
After the heat of the cooking competition, Pacific Lutheran University Sous Chef Chuk Blessum came out with a silver medal. Chefs from PLU spent their fifth straight spring break attending a regional cooking competition and convention in Reno, Nevada .
Fifteen colleges around the region participated in the competition. Some schools in attendance were Berkeley, Stanford, Oregon State, University of Southern California, University of San Diego, Boulder and the University of Idaho.
Blessum said the majority were large schools where chefs prepare food for thousands of students three times a day. In comparison, Blessum appeared to be an underdog, coming from such a small school like PLU.
The contest took place on March 22, from 8 a.m. to noon. When participants entered the competition room, each was given their own station. There was a six foot and an eight foot table, set up in a “V” formation. The competition organizers provided two induction burners, a chaffing dish, a cutting board and a tall rack. Chefs were responsible for bringing everything else with them.
“You get one shot,” Blessum said when asked how many rounds or attempts he had to cook the meal.
The competition’s structure gave contestants 10 minutes to set up their stations, 60 minutes to prepare and cook their meal and 10 minutes for plating. Plating is the act of putting the cooked food on the dish in a presentable way for the judges.
Competitors were not allowed to start plating until the ten minute plating window, however, they could continue cooking into the plating time.
Erick Swenson, Commons chef, has competed in this competition twice before and accompanied Blessum to Reno this year. Swenson was the “backbone of the support system,” Blessum said.
“[This is] not like a cooking competition on television where time is up and everyone throws their hands in the air,” Swenson said. Instead, competitors were allowed to continue until they felt like their plate was ready. However, there was a half point deduction for every minute that a competitor went over.
The judges awarded points based on taste, originality and execution, Swenson said. There were also two types of scoring.
Judges awarded a competitor a certain number of points, which indicated how well the competitor did on their own. The second type of scoring compared every competitor’s points to each other’s. Blessum received silver based on his own score and second place overall.
The first-place winner would move on to the national tournament, so Blessum just missed the next round. Swenson said he and Blessum heard that “a fraction of a point” separated first and second place, and that “the second place winner [Blessum] probably lost it by forgetting to put something on his plate.”
Chefs wrote their menu before competition day, and then they were required to stick to that particular menu.
The menu had to involve the main ingredient, in this case duck, and two classic cuts to accompany it.
Blessum forgot to plate his potatoes, which was one of the mandatory items. “Chuk [Blessum] was calm the entire way through, but we are human and things happen,” Swenson said.
From here, the chefs take what they learned, prepare for their next competition and head back to their univeristys’ kitchens. “One of the things we learned was to have a timeline set that has everything lined up and numbered from the very first thing to the very last thing you do,” Swenson said.