Westfield culinary, media students mix for chef contest

May 1,

| Amy Porteraporter@thereminder.com

Broadcast media student host Sophia Paredes works the mic as the judges ask questions of Team Two at the Westfield Technical Academy Chef Showdown in April. Reminder Publishing photo by Amy Porter

WESTFIELD — On the third day of the third annual Chef Showdown at Westfield Technical Academy, a collaboration between the culinary arts department and radio and television broadcasting, a division of graphics arts, the teams had been narrowed down to two who were competing for the win.

The competition had started with two teams of six on the first day. The winning team that day was broken down to six lead chefs on the second day, who each chose an assistant from the other teams. On the second day, the chefs chose a culture to celebrate through food, such as East Asian, African and Caribbean.

The top two teams then advanced to the finals on the third day, where they also chose a sous chef and assistant. On that day, culinary arts teacher and chef Eric Rogers brought in a huge fresh salmon  for the teams to prepare.

Judges on the last day were Chris Smigel, executive director of hospitality at MGM Springfield and Shortshop Bar & Grill chef Monica Guarnieri, who ducked into the kitchen to help other culinary students who were preparing desserts for a catering job.

“I couldn’t sit and wait,” Guarnieri said as she helped the students to make various cookie bars for a Westfield on Weekends volunteer appreciation event later that day.  “They’re doing great! They have a good attitude and want to learn,” she said.

On Team One in the competition were Nella Dovganyuk, head chef, Elayna Carlson and Aidan Gomez, all juniors in culinary. On Team Two was Ilianis Rivera, Grayson Ventura and Julian Suggs, all sophomores.

Also helping in the kitchen was culinary arts teacher Nick Leslie, who is in his first year as instructor at WTA.  A former chef at Arbors Assisted Living, Leslie served as a judge in the competition last year.

Smigel said this is his second year participating as a judge. “It’s phenomenal to not only get culinary students to show what they’ve learned, but to allow another class to do a full production,” he said.

Digital media teacher Steve Forni, whose student crews were filming and recording audio, interviewing and taking still photographs, said the production was going great. He said all of the students were sophomores and juniors from both shops.

“It all depends on the buy-in of the culinary students,” he said. Initially, he added, the students did not want to participate, but “they did a total 180, and are now totally into it.”

Forni said from the graphics perspective, a lot goes into the production.

“This is the third Chef Showdown. It’s not perfect, but won’t ever be perfect. They’ve done a good job improvising,” he said.

Team One then emerged with food to be judged. On the menu was firecracker salmon with a julienne squash and carrot medley, and a lemon cheesecake mousse and almond crumble. After sampling the food, the judges were impressed.

“Overall, the taste was very good. The presentation fit the season, and the salmon was cooked very well,” Smigel said. He suggested tossing the peaches in oil first to keep them from going brown. He also complimented the balance in the dessert, which he said, “wasn’t too sweet.”

Guarnieri agreed that the salmon was perfectly cooked, although she said she didn’t get enough “firecracker” from the spice. She complimented the students on the lime garnish, which she said brought out the flavor.

“The dessert knocked me out of the park with the balance of cream and crumble,” Guarnieri, a baker, said, adding that the whole presentation was nicely done. “Good job, guys!” she said.

Team Two made salmon primavera with garlic bread, pasta vinaigrette, a Brazilian limeade and cupcake.

Guarnieri said again, everything was very good, although the limeade was a little bitter.

“The salmon was very nicely cooked — perfect,” she said, adding that the pasta vinaigrette was different, but she liked how the vinegar acid went with the salmon on the plate.

She said the cupcake tasted fresh and the buttercream was beautiful. Smigel said he agreed almost entirely.

“The salmon was cooked lovely,” he said, also noting the acid from the balsamic vinegar, which “always plays well with salmon in general.”

Smigel said the cupcake was probably the favorite thing he had all day, and the top had a nice crunch.

Both judges agreed they had a hard decision to make, when asked how the teams performed. They said one team did well on certain things, and the other team did well on opposite things, and it would be very close.

The winners will be announced on Westfield Community Television, where all three episodes of the Chef Showdown will be aired on its YouTube channel in the coming weeks, according to Westfield Community TV engineer Ken Stomski, who served as a technical troubleshooter during the production. Post-production will now be entirely in the hands of the broadcast media students.

Junior Samuel Morse, who had worked on most aspects of the production including “running the rack,” said he especially liked to be able to direct, which he helped to do during the last two days of the showdown. “I want to go into film and be a director,” Morse said.

Sophomores Emily Brodeur and Ben Skuse were also assisting with the production.

“I hope one day to get into a job field in movies and radio,” Brodeur said.

Sophomore Kai Skorupski, who photographed the food, said her career interest is in biochemistry and the sciences, but, “I love photography as a hobby.” She recently competed and won third place in photography in the SkillsUSA district competition.

Junior Dorreese Rodriguez, who was behind a camera on the last day, said he had also worked the show the past two years. “

I take a lot of pride in what I do,” said Rodriguez, describing himself as a sketch artist, logo designer, and writer — he’s working on the first novel in what he anticipates will be a series of 15. “There are so many opportunities revolving around the talents I express in this shop. I wake up at 4:30 [a.m.] every day just to be here. You’ve got to apply all the effort and work hard,” Rodriguez said.