This past Monday night, tucked away in a quiet corner of the first floor of Norris, food enthusiasts gathered in anticipation. The enthralling scents of a cooking mire-poix and searing of duck breasts filled the Wildcat Rooms and almost immediately reached the surrounding hallways. In a mere two hours, most patrons probably heard the question “What’s my time?” more than they have in a year.
This was the Road to Gold, a culinary competition among four Northwestern Dining chefs to determine which two would represent the university and take on the NACUFS Culinary Challenge in July. The National Association of College and University Food Services (NACUFS) Culinary Challenge occurs once a year, and this year’s theme is plant-based foods, requiring all competitors to include three ingredients in their dish: black kale, edamame, and red rice.
This was also the first time that Northwestern Dining has decided to hold a small contest among their own chefs. District Executive Chef Chris Studtmann would usually compete in NACUFS by default, but he wanted to open up the opportunity to the rest of his team—so long as they could prove their skills in a full-on culinary battle. The other chefs that took part in the Road to Gold alongside Chef Chris were Chefs Sean Gordon (Executive Chef for Chicago Campus), Uwe Wilshusen (Executive Chef & Operations Manager for Sargent Hall) and Fabrizio Patano (Executive Chef for Athletics).
A culinary competition is no easy task, and this was apparent even during a preliminary competition like the Road to Gold. The chefs must time themselves appropriately to finish their plates, keep their stations clean, and answer the many questions that spectators ask about their ingredients and techniques, all the while ignoring side conversations and staying calm despite judges with clipboards looming over their tables. Losing focus is risky, and according to Chef Chris, competitions and showcases like the Road to Gold is the best way to train yourself to stay focused while surrounded by multiple distractions.
The judges’ table included Chef Gustavo Guzman (Executive Chef of Northwestern Catering), Amy White (Director of Norris University Center) and Sean Quan (founder of culinary arts student group Cookology). With staggered finishing windows, the judges tasted and scored each chef’s dish in succession, spectators eyeing them apprehensively and eager to hear the results.
After much deliberation, the judges chose Chefs Chris Studtmann and Sean Gordon as the two that would move onto NACUFS. We look forward to seeing how they continue to build up their courses, techniques, and team cohesion before the big showdown in July!
For more photos, visit our Flickr album.