Culinary Arts Institute Hosted Final Round of Student Iron Chef Competition

BLOG Iron Chef finalists

Montgomery County Community College’s Culinary Arts Institute’s students (from left) Can Uslu Sancar and Rolene Perumal won the Iron Chef Competition on April 25 competing against fellow students Paul Solarte and John Bucci. Photo by Sandi Yanisko

Although it was a broiling competition, the student chefs of the Culinary Arts Institute (CAI) of Montgomery County Community College cooked up several enticing dishes to impress the panel of esteemed judges and the crowd of visitors during the final round of the Iron Chef Competition held during the CAI’s recent Open House at 1400 Forty Foot Road, Lansdale.

Two teams of two students—Rolene Perumal, 28, of Glenside, and Can Uslu Sancar, 32, of North Wales, versus John Bucci, 25, of North Wales, and Paul Solarte, 22, of Allentown—used the techniques they learned at the CAI to execute three dishes in two hours using mystery ingredients, including Eggo waffles, celery root, red snapper, bacon, game hens, trail mix, corn tortillas, garbanzo beans, lemonhead candies and chai tea bags.

The judges were Executive Chef Tony Clark of Valley Forge Casino Resort, Drexel University’s Professor and Director of Culinary Arts and Food Science Jonathan Deutsch, Ph.D., Corporate Chef of Clemens Food Group Matthew Martino, MCCC President Dr. Karen A. Stout, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Vicki Bastecki-Perez and Dean of Business and Entrepreneurial Initiatives/Strategic Advisor Philip Needles. Judging criteria included taste, cooking techniques, texture/doneness, presentation, sanitation, fabrication, knife cuts, creativity and portion sizes.

While the students competed to win, they also gained invaluable skills through the experience.

“I’ve learned a lot since the first round in November, including flavor profiles and how they complement each other,” said Perumal, an international student from South Africa. “Additionally, we learned about the importance of teamwork and communication in the kitchen.”

“This was an amazing opportunity for us,” added Uslu Sancar, an international student from Istanbul, Turkey. “You get to learn about yourself, your strengths and your stress level.”

Perumal and Uslu Sancar won the competition and received an engraved trophy, the opportunity to stage with Chef Clark and kitchen tools. All four students were offered $5,000 Drexel University scholarships.

“This was a great learning experience,” said Bucci, who works as a chef at Bryn and Dane’s in Horsham. “The most challenging part for me was plating—after the food is prepared and cooked, it all comes down to the presentation.”

His partner, Solarte, enjoyed the competitiveness of the event. “It was fun and challenging,” he said.

The judges were pleased with the students’ professionalism and execution.

“I was very impressed,” said Chef Clark. “The two teams had different approaches, but the outcomes were good-tasting dishes. One team [Perumal and Uslu Sancar] worked very carefully, and the other was more avant garde in their approach.”

“I was really impressed with the students—they were professional and organized and willing to answer questions. I am thrilled to have all of them at Drexel,” Chef Deutsch said.

Similarly, Chef Martino was pleased with their execution. “They worked well together and created well-seasoned, flavored dishes. All four have bright culinary careers ahead of them.”

Perumal and Uslu Sancar prepared three courses: chickpea salad with baby arugula and lemonhead vinaigrette, pan fried red snapper served with sautéed fennel and celeriac topped with a compound butter and a pan-seared Cornish game hen with dauphinoise and sautéed shallots and spinach.

Bucci and Solarte’s three courses were: chicken and waffles with bacon and berry crumble, red snapper with lemon sauce and spinach puree with a side of garbanzo beans and chicken enchiladas with onion puree.

“The Iron Chef Competition clearly demonstrated the high-quality of our program and our students,” said Francine Marz, Director of CAI. “The experience prepares students for the industry, their culinary careers and interviews, when they will be expected to use their creativity and skills to prepare dishes with very limited time constraints.”

The competition started with seven teams of two students each on Nov. 23, 2014. Four of those teams advanced to the second round of the competition held on Jan 31. The two winning teams competed on April 25. Each round became more challenging with additional mystery ingredients, fewer pantry ingredients and more requirements. The competition will be an annual event, according to Marz.

For more information about the Culinary Arts Institute and its degree and certificate programs, visit mc3.edu/culinary or call 267-646-5970.

~ by Diane VanDyke

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