Taste. Texture. Creativity. Originality. Appearance. Oh and one more very important thing: Prominent Use of Fresh USA Pears. These were the criteria our three culinary student finalists were judged on last week as they traveled from their respective citites to Portland to vie for first place in the USA Pears Student Culinary Competition. After receiving entries from around the country, we narrowed down the entrants to three student rockstars:
Dallas Hinesly from Texas Culinary Acadamy in Austin, Texas, who submitted “Sweet Potato and Pear Gnocchi with Grilled Pork and a Balsamic Pear Glaze”
Nicole Mau from South Seattle Community College in Seattle, Washington, who submitted “Red Anjou Poire Frite”
Andrea Howard from Florida Culinary Institute in West Palm Beach, Florida, who submitted “Pear Risotto & Pear Poached in Red Wine”
Here’s how it went down: In the morning we picked the finalists up at the hotel and took them to breakfast (at Mother’s Bistro, which was lovely by the way) where we discussed the day’s schedule, drew names to determine the order in which the contestants would present their dishes to the judges, and then broke into groups to go grocery shopping. My assignment was to take Nicole shopping, and after quickly gathering her ingredients at the local Whole Foods we headed to Western Culinary Institute where we met back up with the other finalists and the rest of the Pear Bureau crew. Now the finalists had three hours to prepare their recipes to be judged at 3:30 p.m. The students quickly went to work measuring, peeling, chopping, mixing and all of the other wonderful things culinary students do, and I went about getting in their way and taking flash photography directly in their faces.
To our delight, Nicole’s family and friends drove down from Seattle to cheer her on, and even donned homemade “Team Nicole” t-shirts, complete with a puff-painted pear design on the front!
Part of "Team Nicole" poses for a picture
When the clock struck 3:35, the students presented their recipes one-by-one to the judges. We were lucky enough to snag three well-regarded culinary professionals to judge the event; Kathy Hayden, Editor of Flavor and the Menu Magazine, Ericka Carlson of Edible Portland Magazine, and Chef DJ Wendeborn, Chef Instructor at Western Culinary Institute. After filling out score sheets, providing verbal feedback to each contestant (American Idol style!), and discussing the recipes amongst themselves, a winner was announced.
Congratulations to Nicole Mau and “Team Nicole!” Her creative recipe, “Red Anjou Poire Frite,” which utilized a Red Anjou Pear Sorbet, Red Anjou Pear Compote AND a Red Anjou Pear Sauce, impressed all three judges! Here’s a shot of the winning recipe, and another photo of Nicole holding her awards while her grandmother weeps with joy!
As for me, I had the good fortune of getting to taste all three dishes, and believe you me, they were out of this world. Afterwards, we all went to a local restaurant called BEAST, which also falls directly into the “out of this world” category. What a day!
Click here to view the winning recipe: Red Anjou Poire Frite