WCCC students heading to national culinary bowl in Orlando
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Know the name of the process of mixing and aerating heated chocolate? How about the French term for cutting meat into slices?
A team of students from Westmoreland County Community College cooked up the correct answers to those and other questions to earn a trip to Orlando. They will compete in the National Baron H. Garland Culinary Knowledge Bowl July 14-17 at the American Culinary Federation's National Convention.
Nicole Cervone of Belle Vernon, Tonia Eisaman of Mount Pleasant, Courtney Nalevanko of Crabtree and Deanna Spaniel of West Newton are part of the school's culinary arts program and represent the northeast region of the federation.
To get to the national event, they, along with a fifth student, Kelcey Schwartz of North Huntingdon, who will not make the trip, won the regional knowledge bowl in April, beating teams from federation accredited schools in Long Island and Schenectady, N.Y., and southern Maine.
"It's been a lot of work but worth it, because we're learning a lot that we'll be able to take into the field with us," said Ms. Eisaman, team captain.
For 20 years, students have competed regionally and nationally in the event, named for Uniontown native and former Laurel Highlands federation president, Baron H. Garland.
Mr. Garland was an advocate for ongoing culinary knowledge for students and professors, said Carl Dunkel, team coach and assistant professor of culinary arts/hospitality at WCCC.
"It's set up just like Jeopardy. They know they need to know just a myriad of things. It's very broad knowledge based," he said.
But the questions are specific, ranging in categories from classical cooking and baking to nutrition, sanitization and culinary math. Perhaps the most challenging questions reference techniques of influential French chef, Auguste Escoffier, whose cookbooks were published in the early 1900s.
"Thankfully, there are only five chapters [from Escoffier] they are required to know. It's daunting, and in today's culinary world, we reference him, but we do more modern compositions," Mr. Dunkel said.
To prepare, the women are studying from five texts that cover different specialties. Although each is required to master facts from every text, each has her own area of concentration.
"The students at this level are like sponges. They want to learn everything," said Cheryl Shipley, assistant coach and assistant professor of culinary arts/hospitality.
Ms. Eisaman's specialty is culinary arts. She'll be counted on for facts on details like the different types of lettuces, eight primal cuts of beef, everything there is to know about sauces and more.
Ms. Cervonne is the second generation in her family to compete in the Knowledge Bowl at the national level. Her mother and fellow student, Ellen Cervonne, was on the team for the past two years.
"The questions can be about cookies, seafood sanitations. The math problems might be about unit measurements or baker's percentage -- adjusting the recipes from yielding 20 dozen to three dozen," she said. "It's a very fast-paced game."
The WCCC students will compete against teams from the southeast, western and central regions in the country.
"Our competitors come from four-year colleges, other community colleges and two-year proprietary schools," Ms. Shipley said. Judges at the event are certified executive chefs and chef educators.
The team from WCCC was selected based on grades, attendance, general practices and an interview. They are all in their second year of the two-year program. Each student is paying her own way to the convention that will be held at the Marriott World Center, though they've received donations from many sources, including other federation chapters within the region.
One tastefully successful fundraiser was a Day in the Life of a Chef that they auctioned at the WCCC Foundation's annual Chef Dinner in May. The winner received lessons on a day's worth of food preparation complete with an upscale meal for eight people.
"All of these women are currently working in the industry while attending school. We are extremely proud of them," Ms. Shipley said. And that sentiment is reciprocated by the team.
"We wouldn't have come this far without the support of our teachers and coaches," Ms. Cervone said.
In case you were wondering: Mixing and aerating chocolate is called conching; the French term for cutting meat is emince.
First Published July 6, 2012 12:00 am