MenuDirections’ cooking "show"

At MenuDirections 2014, chefs reveal character and creativity at our unique culinary competition.

During the MenuDirections conference earlier this week in Charlotte, N.C., FoodService Director staged its second culinary competition. Four two-person teams, drawing chefs from all five of our major market segments—schools, colleges, hospitals, senior living and B&I—competed in a market basket-style event that tested not only their ability to use a diverse array of ingredients but also to learn to work together with a chef they’d never met until a week before the competition.

In 2013, we premiered the event in Tampa, Fla., and it was a huge hit. We didn’t know what to expect, but although we had a few glitches, the event went off much better than we could have imagined for a first-time effort. So, as we prepared for this year, there wasn’t much that we had to tweak. But we went ahead and played around with it, anyway.

The unique aspect of our culinary competition is that the chefs are chosen randomly and paired with someone with whom they’ve never worked. Last year, the pairings included two university chefs, two hospital chefs, two B&I chefs and two senior living chefs. This year, we added a new wrinkle: None of the chefs would be matched with someone from their market.

Our teams were: Justin Gillette, Atlanta Public Schools (Sodexo), and Steve Pexton, Rex Healthcare; Joe Kraft, Morrison Healthcare, and Robert Winther, Twin Lakes Communities; Darla Mehrkens, Carilion Clinic, and Melissa Martinez, Michigan State University; and Paul Nicolini, Penn State University-Scranton, and Tom Sewell, Florida Blue (Sodexo). They were introduced, via email, about a week before the competition and encouraged to communicate with each other about potential recipe ideas. But obviously, they had no chance to work together prior to event.

They were, however, told in advance what the market basket would consist of. (We’re not sadists). There were pork products from Hormel, four different sauces from Kikkoman, a variety of beans from Bush’s, and grapes, blueberries and lemon plums from the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association.

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