Thank you, Jake Martin of the St. Augustine Record, for this great write-up!
FCTC Culinary Students Impress Judges at ‘Rustic’ Cook-Off
Two teams of students from First Coast Technical College’s School of Culinary Arts won over the taste buds of professional judges in Rype & Readi Farm Market’s Galley Wars competition on Oct. 17.
Teams of four to six chefs from FCTC and Culinard, the Culinary Institute of Virginia College in Jacksonville, competed to create dishes using only surprise pantry ingredients in a rustic outdoor kitchen setting.
“Rustic” means the many mass-produced, electrified and automated comforts of the modern kitchen were not to be found.
“Everything was open-fire,” said Kit Kiefer, culinary arts coordinator at FCTC. “Anything you’re doing — like grinding up something like you would in a food processor — you’re doing it in a food mill the old-fashioned way.”
Kyle Smith, 37, leader for Team 1, said they could only use what was provided in the competition pantry in terms of spices, produce and supplies.
The protein to be used was kept a secret until the start of the competition. The secret ingredient: Mayport shrimp.
Teams had one hour to come up with a dish worthy of praise from a panel of professional judges including Collage Restaurant chef and owner Mike Hyatt and Blackfly The Restaurant co-owner Vaughn Cochran.
FCTC took first place in Judges’ Choice for Team 1’s grilled shrimp with chimichurri sauce served over seasonal vegetables as well as Most Creative Use of Secret Ingredient for Team 2’s shrimp ceviche presented three different ways. Virginia College took first in Audience Choice.
“We talked about what was in season, vegetable-wise, produce-wise and had an idea, seasonally, what type of protein we might be facing — but we were wrong,” Smith said. “We thought it would be oysters.”
In terms of preparation, there wasn’t much that students could do except apply what they’ve learned in the kitchen.
“The nice thing about this school is that every day you’re kind of racing against the clock,” he said. “We have to have the food out by 10:45 a.m. for Walter’s Reef (Café), so just the culture of this school prepares you for being in that environment.”
Leslie Pecor, 18, was in charge of cutting vegetables for Team 1.
“Once you start it, it just goes by so fast and before you know it, you’re done,” she said. “It was limited supply and limited firepower.”
Pecor had cut her hand while splitting an avocado but jumped back in for her team as soon as she could.
“She came back strong,” Kiefer said.
Zach Crete, 17, worked on peeling shrimp, cutting vegetables and plating the ceviche trio for Team 2.
“It’s definitely nerve-wracking not knowing what the ingredient is beforehand and then having to think of all these different things you can’t do,” he said. “Most of them, of course, are bad ideas.”
He said his team spent maybe five minutes on planning before racing for the necessary ingredients and cranking up the heat.
Crete said aside from their knives, teams had a fold-out table and small basket with bowls, cutting boards and a whisk or two to make use of.
“Everybody was a sharing a grill,” he said.
With 10 minutes left to go in the competition, Kiefer couldn’t contain himself any longer and started yelling advice and directions to his two teams.
“He was freaking us out because he was freaking out,” Pecor said, laughing.
“We used every millisecond of that hour,” Smith said.
As he was putting on the finishing touches for his team’s grilled shrimp dish, Smith saw an opportunity to make some chimichurri “on the fly.”
“When I looked at the produce I knew we needed additional moisture and some acid on top of the dish because we were cooking the shrimp with the shells on,” he said.
The team seized the last of the parsley, chopped it up and mixed it in with red wine vinegar, garlic and oil. That final effort put the dish over the top, earning the approval of professional judges.
“I want to keep challenging myself in this field,” Smith said. “I think you kind of have to embrace making yourself a little uncomfortable every day.”
Rype & Readi Farm Market, located at 5780 C.R. 305 in Elkton, is a 22-acre “farm-to-fork” marketplace and specialty retailer of natural, organic and farm-direct foods.