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Pierpont Community & Technical College culinary team to represent West Virginia in New York cook-off

By EDDIE TRIZZINO

Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT, W.Va.  – After months of practice and preparation, Kayleb Band found himself in a race against the clock to complete a four-course meal.

The members and coaches of the Pierpont Community & Technical College culinary competition team won an American Culinary Federation state cook-off to qualify for regional competition in January. From left are coach Allison McCue, Grace Johnson, Noah Hedrick, Kayleb Band, Stephanie Hawkins, Tiffany Ross and coach Jay Mahoney.
(Submitted photo)

Band and the rest of the team members of Pierpont Community & Technical College’s culinary competition team managed to beat the clock and win in a qualifying cook-off for the American Culinary Federation regional finals.

“The constant thought that goes through my mind whenever I’m competing is, ‘I need to make sure I get this task done. That way I’m on schedule. I’ve got to stay on top of this list.’ It was a constant battle of getting everything done on time,” Band, the captain of the competition team and second-year culinary arts student at Pierpont, said.

The competition was hosted Dec. 1 on Pierpont’s campus, where the team competed against Carver Vocational Center to move on to the regional competition.

But in actuality, the cooking began long before the contest, as the teams were tasked with creating a four-course meal based around a dessert dish called Oeufs a la Neige, a pastry dish also known as “floating islands.”

“It is the plainest dessert you can imagine, but it has real delicacies. It really takes fine-tuning to get it perfect,” Jay Mahoney, program coordinator for culinary arts at Pierpont and coach of the competition team, said. “Basically what it is is poached meringues in pastry cream, and that’s it.”

Mahoney said the dish is picked out by the American Culinary Federation from a recipe book by French chef Auguste Escoffier months before the cook-off, which the team then has to design a fitting meal around.

In the past, the dish has normally been an appetizer, which is why Mahoney was surprised by the choice.

“Until this year they’ve always done either the appetizer, which is the fish course, or a chicken dish, an entree,” he said. “This year for the first time ever they decided to do a classical dessert. Very odd.”

Nevertheless, his worries for the team were erased when he saw the way the members worked together and resolved issues, which is also a category on the rubric for which the team is judged.

Mahoney said the judging at competitions is “very strict,” and while much emphasis is given to the final product, the cooking process is also scrutinized.

“They have a floor judge and they have two taste judges, but I don’t know why they really call it that because all three of them really watch what you make very, very closely. They watch what you’re throwing away. No scraps; you have to have exact amounts with no waste, no waste whatsoever. So they go around and watch your techniques. They watch your sanitation, and safety of course, and the way the team handle themselves in the kitchen,” Mahoney said.

“When they give you a classical dish, they say, ‘Do it the way Escoffier did it,’ and that’s it. Period,”

Each team at the competition had 80 minutes to prepare the entire meal, a period which was a constant race against time, as Band said. The entire time throughout was described as “intense” by both Band and Mahoney, especially when they encountered some setbacks.

“We were a little late in getting one of our items into the oven, so that caused us to take up a lot of oven space, so we had to figure out a way to get everything in the oven at the same time. Because of that, one of our items was petering kind of, so we had to make due with what we had,” Band said.

Despite a few hiccups, the team earned enough points to rack a silver accolade, being just three points away from gold, according to Mahoney.

The team is made up of five students in the culinary program at the school, who try out at the semester’s start for a place on the team. Mahoney has faith in the team and its members, and is holding out hope that this is the year they take regionals.

“The team’s actually coming along very well. They pulled it together very nicely last week,” Mahoney said.

The regional competition takes place Jan. 26-28, 2018, in Buffalo, New York.

Band is just happy to have another chance to compete.

“It’s not easy and it’s sometimes very costly at times, so every chance I get to compete I consider myself very fortunate,” he said.

Email Eddie Trizzino at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @eddietimeswv.

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