Cooking the Competition
Not everybody gets to go to the Big Show. To compete you must be among the best of the best. Your team needs to be state champions. You need to be among the top five of your class. You have to be on your game and you have to be cooking. Really cooking.
Platt College students Kale Blackmon, Donovan Ross, Toni Gullett, Anthony Santos and Brandon Baldwin took their culinary skills to Oklahoma City in March to compete in the American Culinary Federation regional competition. As state champions, they represented Oklahoma against 14 other states in the conference. The annual contest is sponsored by Platt College and The Culinary Arts of Oklahoma.
Entrants compete as teams and esprit-de-corps can make the difference between winning and losing. Baldwin says, “It was actually my first time being in a competition like this. It’s very competitive. I learned a lot. I learned that you do need a team to do this. Without my teammates I wouldn’t be able to put out my dish.”
Preparation for the competition is grueling. Hundreds of man-hours go into practice. Hundreds more go into more practice. Platt’s team prepped the entire year under the supervision of their coaches, Chefs Patrick Morris; Travis Williams, CCC; and Mark Cochran, CEC, CFBE, CCA. With help from the instructors, students put their own spin on classic recipes, turning the old into the new. Initially, the best ingredients are inspiration, experimentation and perseverance. In the hands of good students they have a tendency to turn into five-star meals.
The competition is far more rigorous than the usual contests served up by the Home and Garden Channel. It’s split into three phases: culinary, hot platter and cold platter. Each phase lasts 75 minutes. Competitors must start their dishes from scratch. And finish them – in the same amount of time it takes most people to make a simple dinner.
Judging is handled by master chefs from around the world. The judging criteria are extensive and include everything from technique to presentation. But at the end of the day it’s all about how good it tastes. “The judges eat well. They eat very well. They get to eat some of the best,” says head coach Mark Cochran. Cochran makes no bones about it, noting, “I feel strongly that Platt College is the best.”
Platt took the bronze at last year’s competition, but this year came away with 7th place.
Baldwin and his teammates may not have taken home the gold, but they came back with something worth a lot more.
“Once I saw all that down there it made me want to strive for more, to get more experience and work with more chefs. It’s just eye-opening because you see stuff you’ve never seen before by different master chefs. It just makes you strive to be better and improve your skills.”