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Culinary students turn up heat, win second place

By Natasha Hollerup
On May 5, 2011

The students from Chef James Udulutch's class are getting an education about the art of culinary competition. They put their acquired skills to good use when they won second place in the Reinhart Food Competition, on March 29 at Potawatomi Bingo and Casino. Blackhawk Technical College placed first and Waukesha County Technical College took third in the competition.

The two day competition, which was sponsored by Reinhart Food Service, which showcased food solely from the company was literally shrouded in mystery. Each team had a mystery box of ingredients on ice that was covered with a tablecloth. Once the box was revealed, each team was given a half hour to plan their menu.

After the menu was planned, teams were given two hours to prepare and cook dishes based on what was in their mystery box. The MATC team, which included Paul Culp, Anthony Scardina and Alex Beronja, created a menu that consisted of basil pesto sauce and a cherry tomato confit, quinoa risotto; seared scallops with a bacon vinaigrette, sea bass poached in coconut milk, pickled kumquats and seared halibut with a lemon garlic sauce.

Udulutch is no stranger to competing in this particular competition - it was his fourth consecutive time there. Last year, his class won third place in the same competition. Before this competition, he and his team also competed at the Wisconsin Food Show. His Culinary Competition class has a rigorous application procedure, where prospective students have to complete their Culinary Skills 1 and 2 classes and have an instructor recommendation. They are then interviewed to assess their strengths and weakness. The class only consists of ten students.

Scardina, Culp and Beronja all had good things to say about their experiences here at MATC as well as their plans once they graduate. Scardina said, "I think they have a really good program here at MATC. I've always wanted to be a chef. I've been in the industry for over twenty years and once I graduate, I would like to move to Europe and maybe see if there's something there for me."

Culp said about the program, "I've always wanted to be a chef so I decided to come to MATC and the program itself has been very good. I'm enjoying it a lot. The competition class has taught me more about working on my feet and how to quickly get things done, and it's definitely going to help for restaurant cooking. When I get out, I want to eventually become a sous chef in a restaurant."

Beronja talked about the benefits of the competition class. Beronja said, "For the competition team, I'd say that if anything's lacking in other labs, this class helps us to be more creative.

What I like about Chef Udulutch, the way he does it, is that we come up with the dishes. We come up with our menu items and we're all working on it together because he is not giving us recipes to do. He's helping us develop recipes and I feel like that's very important for the competition team because I feel that other schools may not use all student recipes that they're coming up with. So, it helps us to be creative and in a lot of labs here, we don't get to be that creative. I think creativity is a huge aspect of cooking."

In praise of his students, Udulutch said, "Something that I would note is that much of the credit for what happens in this class has to go to the students because like Alex (Beronja) said, I do try to help as much as possible. I think I pulled one recipe this past year and gave it to a student to produce. For the most part, 99% of all the ideas come from the students and we work off their ideas because if they don't have personal involvement in what they're creating, they're not going to have as much heart, body and soul put into it."

Udulutch said, "The class is not only about teamwork and producing food. We have to do this under the guidelines of what the judges are looking for. So, not only are we balancing proper culinary technique but we're also dealing with personality. We have to understand what our judges want and it's not always that easy to know. Sometimes, things didn't always go our way in judging because of different personalities with some of the judging criteria. So, it can be frustrating."

Udulutch added, "The other thing I will emphasize is that it's a huge commitment on the student's part and the fact that the team came together in such a short period of time and won a silver medal after only knowing each other for two months (before the competition) needs to be noticed."

The Reinhart Competition was the last competition that the class participated in for the year, but Udulutch is planning to take his next set of students to the American Culinary Foundation competition next January.

His students this semester has also raised money to go to New Orleans during Spring Break to observe another food competition.

The Culinary Arts associate degree program at MATC is a two year program, and 70 credits must be completed before graduating. Udulutch's Culinary Competition class is a three credit elective course. Congratulations to the team.

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