Some of the great chefs of the future put their talents on full display to amaze and impress New Jersey Association of Counties annual conference attendees at the 2014 County Vocational-Technical Schools Cook-Off.
Teams of culinary arts students from eleven county vocational-technical schools districts vied for awards and bragging rights at the third annual cook-off competition, which was held at at Caesars Atlantic City on May 9.
“This event gets more exciting and creative every time, and has become the highlight of our annual conference,” said NJAC Executive Director John Donnadio.
“The county executives, freeholders and other county officials look forward to it all year, and they take great pride in the talent and professionalism displayed by their students. And walking around and sampling all this incredible food is a wonderful way to have lunch,” Donnadio said.
NJCCVTS Executive Director Judy Savage noted that in New Jersey, vocational-technical high schools are built and operated by the individual counties, which provide a significant amount of the funding for the schools.
“This annual cook-off is a tremendous opportunity for the freeholders and other county officials who support our schools and their guests and vendors at this conference to meet some of our young people, see (and taste) the results of their efforts, and get an even better understanding of what 21st century career and technical education is all about,” Savage said.
“Our students are amazing. They have worked very hard for months to prepare for this day, and they are being very well-trained for their chosen careers. We are very grateful to NJAC for giving us the chance to showcase them,” she said.
Each team in the 2014 competition had a $500 budget to prepare and present 400 portions of a single hors d’oeuvre or appetizer.
The entries were then judged by three panels of judges:
- All conference attendees (who voted on the People’s Choice awards);
- A group of NJAC officials and conference vendors;
- A panel of Atlantic City professional chefs.
The NJAC and People’s Choice Awards judges also voted on the teams’ station displays, which were a required element in their competition entries.
All of the station displays were designed and created by the students over the past few months. In many districts, the culinary arts students were assisted by teams of other students from the schools who are enrolled programs such as carpentry, design and visual arts.
The 2014 teams and their entries were:
Atlantic County Institute of Technology: Piggyback Crab: Atlantic City bread crostini topped with crab avacado salad and garnished with spicy bacon
Burlington County Institute of Technology: Braised lamb empanadas with pear jiamca slaw and peppadew mint sofrito
Camden County Technical Schools: A Taste of Jersey: Crab ball with andouille sausage, roasted peppers and fresh parsley, topped with a blueberry habanera sauce over a bed of fresh slaw
Cumberland County Technical Education Center: South Jersey crab and shrimp sliders
Hudson County Technical Schools: Thai curry crab cake
Gloucester County Institute of Technology: Up in the Air: A trio of stuffed tomatoes
Mercer County Technical Schools: Seared sea scallop and lobster mousse, served with a porcini mushroom risotto cake, red pepper honey cured bacon and fried leeks in a lobster cream sauce
Monmouth County Vocational School District: Pecan crusted salmon, topped with an apricot honey glaze, served over microgreens and lightly coated with a berry balsamic dressing
Ocean County Vocational-Technical School: Coconut shrimp with mango salsa with a minted lime shooter
Somerset County Vocational & Technical Schools: Chipotle glazed shrimp with tropical salsa
Warren County Vocational-Technical School: Black bean and chorizo soup shooters
Under the rules of the competition, Hudson – the winner of the 2013 People’s Choice Gold Award – and Monmouth, the home county of the 2014 NJAC President, Monmouth County Clerk M. Claire French, were automatically entered into this year’s contest. All other districts that expressed an interest in participating were part of a lottery, conducted by NJAC, for the remaining nine slots.
Teams began arriving at Caesars shortly after 9:30 a.m. to get ready for the scheduled 12:15 start for the event.
The students worked with their chef/instructors to move in their equipment and displays, establish and decorate their stations and go over their plans for the competition.
As the opening time drew near, the prep work and pressure intensified, as the students prepared, plated and sauced their entries.
And when the judges entered the ballroom, they were greeted with an array of tantalizing aromas, engaging thematic visual displays at every station and poised students eager to explain their entries, what inspired them and how they were created.
When the votes were tallied, it was clear that the judges were impressed: The totals were very, very close in all award categories.
NJAC Executive Director John Donnadio and NJAC officers presented the awards at a special ceremony attended by all the the students, their chef/instructors and observers from their districts and many of the freeholders and other county officials at the conference.
And the awards went to:
NJAC Judges Awards for Table Display:
NJAC Judges Awards for Taste:
AC Chefs Awards for Presentation:
AC Chefs Awards for Taste:
People’s Choice Awards:
Next year, automatic entries will be given to Hudson, the winner of this year’s People’s Choice Gold Award, and Mercer, the home county of the 2015 president of NJAC, Freeholder Ann Cannon.
NJCCVTS would like to thank all the people who worked so hard behind the scenes to make this event such a great success, including the instructors and administrators in the participating districts and the staffs at NJAC and Caesars Atlantic City.