Tantalizing aromas and eye-popping visual displays greeted attendees at the New Jersey Association of Counties annual conference as they entered the final event of the session, the sixth annual NJAC County Vocational-Technical Schools Cook-Off.
Teams of culinary arts students from 11 county vocational-technical school districts were charged with preparing 400 samples of an appetizer or hors d’oeuvre and creating decorative serving stations reflecting the theme of their entries.
Gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded in several categories.
“Our freeholders and other county officials were awed by the creativity, talent and poise of the cook-off teams, and as always, the food was outstanding,” said NJAC Executive Director John Donnadio.
“The cook-off has become one of the most anticipated and popular events of the conference, and though it’s hard to believe, every year it seems to get more exciting,” Donnadio said.
NJCCVTS Executive Director Judy Savage said the cook-off provides an opportunity for county officials and other conference attendees to see the results of their investment in county vocational-technical schools.
“The culinary arts students — and students in other programs ranging from health sciences, to STEM, to construction trades – are pursuing their passions,” Savage said. “In preparing for their careers and higher education, they are gaining real-world experiences and in many cases college credits, while they are still in high school.
“Our schools, our students and their parents are very grateful to the county officials whose support makes these opportunities possible,” she said.
As the students carefully plated, presented and explained their entries, three panels of judges – a group of NJAC members and sponsors, a group of professional chefs and all conference attendees, who voted for the People’s Choice Awards – spent a very happy hour sampling the offerings and casting their ballots.
The districts participating this year and their entries were:
Bergen County Technical Schools: Middle Eastern Delight: Baba Ghanoush with a Kafta Ball Served on Couscous Rounds with Cucumber Yogurt Sauce and Tomato Cucumber Relish
Camden County Technical Schools: Braised Beef Short Rib Taco with Mexican Street Corn Salsa and an Avocado Crema
Cumberland County Technical Education Center: Mojo Pork Taco with Pico De Gallo, Pickled Radish Slaw and Cilantro Lime Creama, Served with a Crispy Shrimp Spoon with Black Bean and Avocado Puree, Pineapple Pico, Roasted Jalapeno, Mango Coulis and Micro Corn Shoots
Essex County Vocational Schools’ West Caldwell Tech: Grilled Angus Beef Patty with Sauteed Leeks, Finished with Irish Whiskey Marmalade, Topped with Beer Cheese Lemon Beurre Blanc Sauce and Irish Bacon, and Served with Guinness and Onion Soup with an Irish Cheddar Crouton
Gloucester County Institute of Technology: Crab Macaroni and Cheese on a Crispy Cone with Pancetta Cream
Hudson County Schools of Technology’s High Tech High School: Sabor del Caribe (Flavors of the Caribbean): Ropa Vieja Beef
Mercer County Technical Schools: Dark Honey and Bourbon Sausage Served with a White Corn Cake and a Roasted Tomatillo Stuffed with Smoked Gouda and Onion Bourbon Jam
Middlesex County Vocational & Technical Schools Perth Amboy Campus: Seared Barnegat Scallops with Shiitake, Spinach, Corn Puree, Popcorn, Cranberry Dust and Micro Cilantro
Monmouth County Vocational School District: Hazelnut-Crusted Pork Tenderloin Served with a Strawberry Balsamic Glaze and Paired with Strawberry Salsa and Micro Greens
Morris County Vocational School District: Pork Belly Buns
Passaic County Technical Institute: All-American Grilled Cheese with a Smoked Tomato Bisque Shooter
At a very exciting ceremony following the event, all students received certificates of participation from NJAC and the competition awards were presented.
The team from Camden County Technical Schools took home the People’s Choice Gold Medal, guaranteeing Camden a chance to defend the title in the 2018 competition.
Cumberland County Technical Education Center won the People’s Choice Silver Medal. Hudson County Schools of Technology’s High Tech High School won the Bronze.
Other honors went to:
NJAC Judges Panel Taste:
Gold – Camden
Silver – Cumberland
Bronze – Hudson
NJAC Judges Panel Station Display:
Gold – Cumberland
Silver – Passaic
Bronze – Monmouth
Professional Chef’s Judges Panel Taste:
Gold – Cumberland
Silver – Middlesex
Bronze – Monmouth
Professional Chef’s Judges Panel Presentation:
Gold – Middlesex
Silver – Hudson
Bronze – Cumberland
The New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools is grateful to the New Jersey Association of Counties for sponsoring this competition every year, and to the staffs at NJAC and Caesars Atlantic City, whose hard work makes it so successful.