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.

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