On Dec. 19, the South Food District at University Park hosted the annual Penn State Culinary Challenge, sponsored by the National Association of College and University Food Services (NACUFS).
The annual challenge begins with an initial cook-off at each participating school that follows the American Culinary Federation’s competition guidelines and features a mandatory protein ingredient that is determined and provided by NACUFS.
This year, the mandatory protein was two whole Cornish hens and black beluga lentils.
The winner was Penn State Harrisburg’s Paul Motter, whose dish featured fig and pistachio Cornish game hen roulade with crispy lollipop thigh fowl jus ragout of beluga lentils, red wine braised salsify, and charred king oyster mushrooms.
When thinking about the dish he would create, Motter says he “wanted to keep it classical French style but also incorporate a Cajun flair. Entering into this competition, I look at it as competing against myself — pushing myself to learn new things and to better my skills.”
Four contestants worked at their cooking stations, creating signature dishes from their original recipes. Competitors had 60 minutes, with 10 additional minutes for plating, to prepare four portions of an original hot entree featuring the mandatory ingredient, side dishes, and sauces. Chefs cooked at their stations in timed increments until all chefs had completed their hour of cooking and delivered their dish to the judges’ table.
Judging the cook-off were Bill Laychur, corporate executive chef for Penn State Culinary Support Services; Jeffrey Dover, general manager of Café Laura; and Zach Lorber, culinary instructor for the State College School District. Judges evaluated the culinary creations based on criteria including organization, cooking skills/culinary technique, flavor, texture, nutritional balance, and presentation.
Mark Kowalski, executive chef for culinary support services, coordinated the event, which has been held at University Park as well as various commonwealth campuses annually since 2002.
The other contestants were Donald Harned (Penn State Behrend), Tyler Sedlock (South Food District), and Jeff Varcoe (East Food District).
Motter will represent Penn State and create his dish at the NACUFS Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference Culinary Challenge in Uncasville, Connecticut, on March 30.