Create a simple capstone cooking competition for your program.
By Adam Weiner, JD, CFSE
Many of you participate in ProStart or similar programs. I cannot begin to tell you how incredibly impressed I am that you and your students do that. However, for various reasons such as lack of funding for travel or practice, no competitions in the area, etc., many schools are not able to participate in programs like ProStart. It is for the teachers at schools who do not attend outside competitions for whom I write this article.
In April of 2019, I published an article Three-part Capstone Project Pulls Together a Culinary Education. A shorter, more cooking-focused capstone project or cooking competition might be appropriate for the nature of your class. Or, you might just decide your students would find it fun, useful, and informative for you to give them a TV-like format to show off all the things they learned.
Don’t get intimidated by the competition shows on television. You don’t need to have a full-scale Iron Chef or Chopped format. You don’t need to have a grocery store mock-up a la Guy’s Grocery Games. Nor do you need a set straight out of a futuristic “West Side Story” production a la Beat Bobby Flay. Your competition could be as easy and simple as a crudité tray. (See the article Blanching and Parboiling for crudité ideas.) Creative mac and cheese is another fun idea and it seems every restaurant now has its own version. Unique hot dogs or quinoa bowls would work fine too. Street tacos will get your students creative juices flowing. Even a chocolate chip cookie or brownie competition would be great.
Here are some suggestions and ideas.
- Don’t make it overly complicated. You want students to have time to prep, cook, eat, judge, etc., without freaking out or getting stressed too much. (A little time tension is good though.)
- See if there is a way to do it over two class periods, with planning and prep on day one followed by cooking and judging on day two.
- Decide what type of competition you want: individual vs. team, mystery basket vs. previously stated ingredients, creativity vs. following specific recipes. Is the judging blind (the judges don’t know who made which dish) or will you have the students also be judged on their oral presentation skills?
- If possible, get judges who don’t know your students. Culinary professionals or instructors from the local community college are great and typically willing to help. This also gives your class great exposure to the community college system and/or local professionals. You don’t need a lot of judges, three is a terrific number if you can do that. (Stay away from other teachers in your school or your administration. They tend to say unhelpful things like: “Everyone is a winner;” or “We are all proud of everyone today, they were all so good we couldn’t decide who is first.”)
- Have a score sheet and give the score sheet to the students ahead of time so they know what they will be judged on. (Click here to see a sample score sheet which I have used.) I think it is critical that categories like mise en place, planning, etc. be judged. If the judging is blind, you might need a Floor Judge who watches these issues. However, the Floor Judge cannot tell the other judges who made which item. Please modify the score sheet as appropriate. For example, if you use a blind tasting format you will delete the section on oral presentation.
Finally, don’t feel limited or restricted to what I wrote in this article or what is on the score sheet. You are the instructor; you know what works best for your class.
Adam Weiner, JD, CFSE, has been a culinary instructor in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 16 years.