The five W’s of entering a cooking competition

fare conference culinary competition

If flashy competition shows like “Top Chef” and “Iron Chef” have taught diners anything, it’s that watching cooks try not to crack under pressure is highly entertaining. But external cooking competitions are about something entirely different for noncommercial chefs—it’s a way to show off their skills while potentially raising the profile of their operation. Ryan Conklin, executive chef with University of North Carolina Rex Healthcare Culinary and Nutrition Services in Raleigh, shares his cooking competition do’s and don’ts.

Competitions entered:

• North Carolina’s Competition Dining Series
• Association of Healthcare Foodservice National Culinary Challenge
• North Carolina Prevention Partners’ Cut to the Core Culinary Challenge

1. Why did you enter?

Healthcare chefs are sometimes the brunt of the jokes. I wanted to stand up for myself, my team and other chefs like me. We have the passion, training, talent and expertise just as much as the restaurant sector. Competing and being successful in competitions is one way to validate that. 

2. How did you prepare?

I’ve competed with submitted dishes that I needed to execute in front of judges, as well as in battles where you had mystery ingredients to for 150 diners who vote on your dishes blindly using an innovative voting app.
My advice is that whatever the competition, walk in as prepared as you can be. Do your homework—read all of your old cookbooks and notes. I even found myself spending up to three hours a day at the local Barnes & Noble reading cookbooks, taking notes and getting inspired. Go into each battle with an expectation of winning, not just placing.

3. What is it like competing?

The time rushes by very quickly, so all steps and moves need to be well rehearsed if you can. There is hardly any time to spare; economy of movement is very important. Another thing that’s extremely important is to keep sanitation in the forefront. It is so important that chefs promote proper sanitation and food safety techniques, especially while competing.

5. Do you have any advice for noncommercial chefs looking to compete?

Some of these competitions are golden opportunities that are available to be seized. Although they are usually added pressure and hard work, they can provide a platform to validate and publicize your team’s talents.
It was great to bond with my team over our victories, especially against teams from the non-healthcare sector. In the end, if you properly prepare, and execute, the juice is usually worth the squeeze of competing.
 

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
chefs

We started inviting chefs and FSDs from other districts to come prepare lunch. Through featuring different chefs and chef-inspired meals, I’ve found the students have been looking forward to coming into the cafeteria. They are willing to try new things with crazy names, and to ask for their favorite outside items turned healthy.

Ideas and Innovation
tapas

I’ve created a high school “focus group” to see what future college students will want in terms of foodservice. This year, I called up two now-seniors from the last group to get 10 of their friends together. I also include a sophomore or two so that I always have a contact for next year. Tapas, grain bowls and late-night breakfast all originated from this group.

Ideas and Innovation
making meals

This summer, we teamed up with a church to deliver meals to three housing projects. We brought the meals to the church, and then the church recruited volunteers to deliver the meals to the children. We’ve been very impressed with this new model, and it shows great promise in getting meals to children who otherwise would not be able to leave their housing project.

Industry News & Opinion
sharing love

Having never personally experienced a hurricane, I can only imagine the horrors faced by the millions of people whose lives were affected by Harvey and Irma in late August and early September. It’s a group that comprises uncounted noncommercial operations, including Houston Independent School District, which serves 215,000 students.

But from that tragedy has come one of the most impressive feats of foodservice I’ve seen since coming on board at this magazine, partially spearheaded by Nutrition Officer Betti Wiggins , who only just joined the district. For the entire school year,...

FSD Resources