April 10, 2012

4 Min Read
Competitive Tapas

Douglas J. Peckenpaugh, Community Director of Content/Culinary Editor

During the recent Research Chefs Association (RCA) annual conference, three teams participated in the first-ever Professional Culinology® Competition, which was sanctioned and approved by the American Culinary Federation (ACF). RCA has hosted student competitions for years, but this was the first time that research chefs actively working within various aspects of the food industry were invited to go toe-to-toe in the two-tiered event, demonstrating their combined manufacturing and kitchen chops.

The concept was to develop three tapas-style itemsone of which had to include beansto comprise an appetizer platter for a hypothetical casual-dining restaurant chain. Each team, which needed to include a member of ACF and one from RCA (or from both organizations), submitted a proposal that included the following items:

  • A gold-standard recipe

  • A converted, plant-ready formula

  • Nutrition labeling details

  • A list of technical ingredients

  • All processing methods, equipment used, packaging and HACCP plan

  • End-user handling, retherming and plating instructions

Three teams qualified for the finals, held in San Antonio, TX during the RCA annual conference, March 21 to 24. They sent in frozen versions of the foods for retherming and presentation, and then also created the items from scratch in San Antonios Culinary Institute of America kitchen for comparison. Heres who made the cut:

  • David Hickok & Sara PoodryJalapeño Rellenos with Truffle Cream Sauce, Rice and Beans; Pork Verde with White Beans; Chipotle Crab Empenadas

  • Jaime Mestan, CSC, and Eric Stein, RDLobster Paella Bites; Chicken and White Bean Empanadillas; Loaded Bravas Skins

  • Nick Landry, CCS, Darryl Holliday, CRC, & Matthew CaelRed Bean Hummus with Crispy Rice Chips; Sweet Potato Hushpuppies with Bacon Onion Stuffing; BBQ Shrimp and Grits

The judges for the event included two certified master chefsUnilevers Steve Jilleba, CMC, CCE, AAC, and John Kinsella, CMC, WGMC, AAC, ACE, Ph.D., from Smartchefs LLCand Walter Zuromski, CEC, CCE, head of Chef Services Group. After the chips had fallen, Mestan and Stein were tapped as the first-place winners, taking home a $5,000 prize.

Mestan described the winning combination as a taste of Spain here at home. Weve taken three traditional Spanish dishes and transformed them into appetizers suited for the casual-dining consumer. There is something for everyone on this shareable platter. The first is a Paella Bite made with premium lobster, Spanish-style chorizo, red peppers, peas, rice and all the flavors that create Spains most famous dish. Second, loaded potato skins bravas-style with Spanish-style chorizo sausage, shredded Manchego-style cheese and a traditional spicy tomato and garlic bravas sauce. The roasted chicken and white bean empanadilla salutes Spains use of white beans, with roasted garlic, Roma tomatoes and melted cheese. There are two dipping sauces to choose from: zesty tomato romesco and garlic aioli.

Mestan goes on to describe her teams creative process: Eric and I thumbed through many Spanish cookbooks looking for authentic Spanish cooking techniques, ingredients and flavors. We compiled a list of ideas and went down the list deciding which flavors, recipes and cooking methods would translate well into the American casual-dining chain segment. The target market for this concept is broad. Having a seafood, chicken and a pork option on one shareable plate allows for whole families, males ages 18 to 35, women ages 16 to 30, and those who are looking for something a little different than the normal casual-dining experience to be satisfied. The flavors arent too bold or offensive, and are familiar to the American palate, allowing a feeling of safe exploration. She notes that the smaller, more-approachable portion sizes of this dish also encourage culinary adventure when dining out. At a menu price of $14.99, the consumer will feel like they are getting an incredible deal for their money, as well as a taste of authentic Spanish dishes. The price point of $14.99 was given to the teams as a set criteria.

I am very happy to have been involved in this competition as it helped me gain a wider perspective to the field of Culinology, says Stein. I would definitely want to participate in future competitions pairing the ACF and RCA chefs. The critiques provided by the judging panel were industry-specific and helpful for everyone involved. They helped us gain a new perspective as we create new dishes and continue to grow in our field. In the future, I would really want to see the winning dishes taken from the competition and put on the menu of a sponsor of the event.

Zuromski noted that this event was a great collaboration between ACF and RCA. We only bring the two groups together, he says, for both members of each organization to benefit from the educational platforms of each. The competition, he notes, lets the industry witness the innovative talents of these chefs, and that this ACF-RCA collaboration can only foster stronger bonds between the two groups and bring more members to the competitors arena for all to benefit from a collaborative exchange of knowledge and creative spirit.

For more coverage of the RCA annual conference, see the A Taste of RCA 2012 Image Gallery, which further illustrates the R&D capabilities of research chefs from across the industry, highlighting some fantastic Latin-inspired appetizer-style dishes that would fit on a range of restaurant menus, as well as retail product concepts.

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