Fourth Annual County Vocational School Cook-Off is a Feast of Flavor and Creativity

May 12th, 2015



Culinary talent and artistry was on full display for county officials attending the New Jersey Association of Counties annual conference, as students participating in the 2015 County Vocational-Technical Schools Cook-Off tantalized conference attendees with delicious appetizers, regional themes and creative table displays.

“The nation’s only County Vocational-Technical School Cook-Off Challenge once again stole the show as county officials sampled the delicious small plates prepared by culinary arts students competing for team titles in taste, creativity, and food presentation,” NJAC Executive Director John Donnadio.

“Our county officials look forward to this event it all year, and they take great pride in the talent and professionalism displayed by their students. They love walking around the ballroom and sampling the fantastic food while interacting with future chefs from around the state,” Donnadio said of the May 8 event.

“This annual cook-off is a tremendous opportunity for the freeholders and other county officials who support our schools to meet their local students, see (and taste) the results of their efforts, and experience 21st century career and technical education firsthand,” Savage said.

“Our students work very hard for months to prepare for this competition, and they benefit immensely from the opportunity to plan, prepare, and present their officials to county officials and casino professional chefs. This is an important component of their training for culinary careers and we are grateful to NJAC for this change for them to showcase their skills,” she said.

Each team in the 2015 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. Many of them reflected regional themes, and many were created in collaboration with other students in programs such as carpentry, design and visual arts.

The 2015 teams and their entries were:

Bergen County Technical Schools – Paramus Campus
Columbian crunch beef empanadas, Thai-style chicken pineapple empanadas, and Thai sweet and sour vegan empanada

Camden County Technical School – Penn Tech
Mango Tamatillo Pico de Gallo garnish with citrus butter, poached shrimp and a plantano maduros crisp

Cape May County Tech
Japanese cured salmon roll served with a delicate sweet ginger sauce, pickled ginger and wasabi

Cumberland County Technical Education Center
Burger sliders made with organic and locally sourced ingredients

Essex County Vocational Technical Schools – North 13th Street Campus
Apricot glazed grilled chicken bruschetta topped with prosciutto di pharma, Fontana cheese, micro greens and a truffle balsamic glaze served with Italian wedding soup

Hudson County Schools of Technology – County Prep HS
Smoked salmon with sautéed kale and risotto cake served with a Chile lime vinaigrette and cilantro aioli

Hunterdon County Polytech
Coffee charred Reddington Farms buffalo carpaccio with a spring vegetable salad and locally foraged ramp aioli

Mercer County Technical Schools
Confit of canvas back duck with blueberry conserve & duck cracklings served on a stout rye cracker

Middlesex County Vocational & Technical Schools – Perth Amboy Campus
Braised short rib slider with taleggio, pickled caramelized onions, arugula, roasted shiitake aioli on a pretzel bun served with homemade potato chips sprinkled with bacon and tomato powder

Morris County School of Technology
Asian chicken slaw served with a crispy wonton cup

Passaic County Technical Institute
Crispy local crab and toma cheese ball sitting on a mound of rice grits topped with tomato, smoked bacon hollandaise with Jersey asparagus and greens.

Under the rules of the competition, Hudson – the winner of the 2014 People’s Choice Gold Award – and Mercer, the home county of the 2015 NJAC President, Mercer County Freeholder Ann Cannon, 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 close in all award categories, and there were multiple ties.

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:
Gold – Cape May
Silver – Cumberland, Essex
Bronze – Mercer

NJAC Judges Awards for Taste:
Gold – Cumberland, Mercer
Silver – Hunterdon
Bronze – Hudson, Middlesex

AC Chefs Awards for Presentation:
Gold – Middlesex, Passaic
Silver – Mercer
Bronze – Camden, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon

AC Chefs Awards for Taste:
Gold – Middlesex
Silver – Essex
Bronze – Bergen, Camden, Cumberland

People’s Choice Awards:
Gold – Cumberland
Silver – Cape May
Bronze – Passaic

Next year, automatic entries will be given to Cumberland, the winner of this year’s People’s Choice Gold Award, and Hunterdon, the home county of the 2016 president of NJAC, Freeholder John King.

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.

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