County vocational-technical school culinary arts students displayed their creativity and talent to rave reviews at the New Jersey Association of Counties 2nd Annual Cook-off at Caesars Atlantic City on May 10.
The enthusiastic praise for the extraordinary food and the students’ efforts from freeholders, county officials and other NJAC conference attendees was a clear indication that this year’s cook-off was even more successful than the inaugural event in 2012.
Student teams from 11 county vocational-technical school districts were charged with preparing 400 samples of an appetizer or hors d’oeuvre, within a set budget of $500 for ingredients.
They were also required to decorate their stations with themes relating to their counties or the entry they prepared.
“In New Jersey, vocational-technical schools are operated by the individual counties,” explained NJCCVTS Executive Director Judy Savage. “Our students are amazing, and they are being very well-trained in their chosen careers.
“This annual cook-off is a tremendous opportunity for the county officials who support our schools to meet some of our young people and see (and taste) the results of their efforts. We’re very grateful to NJAC for giving us the chance to showcase these students and their talents,” she said.
The students’ work was judged by three different panels:
A group of Atlantic City casino chefs, who rated the entries on taste and presentation;
A selected group of NJAC officials and conference vendors, who rated the entries on taste and station display;
And a People’s Choice panel, which included all conference attendees, who awarded points in the categories of taste and station display.
The 2013 district entries were:
Atlantic County Institute of Technology: Seared Tuna Loins on a Fried Won Ton with Mango Salsa
Bergen County Technical Schools: Mexican Fiesta Pouch Served in a Pool of Salsa
Cumberland County Technical Education Center: Freshwater Seafood Ceviche
Essex County Vocational Technical Schools: Mini Italian Hot Dogs
Hudson County Schools of Technology: Spring Seared Tuna with Mango Salsa and Asian Slaw
Hunterdon County Polytech: House-made Griggstown Chicken Sausage with Locally Foraged Ramp Panna Cotta and Spring Vegetable Sauté
Mercer County Technical Schools: Grilled Steak Caprese
Middlesex County Vocational & Technical Schools: Roast Pork with Plantains, Pickled Onions, Bacon and Mushrooms
Morris County School of Technology: Herbed Cheddar Scones with Sheep’s Milk Cream Cheese and Red Pepper Jelly
Passaic County Institute of Technology: Filet of Beef on Toasted Baguettes with Caramelized Onions and Horseradish Sauce
Warren County Vocational-Technical School: Chicken Pintxo Moruno on Romesco Crostini with Garlic Aioli
The teams of students and their instructors arrived early in the day to unload their equipment and supplies, hang their school banners, set up their stations and begin their final preparations.
As the 12:30 opening time approached, the students worked diligently, focusing on cooking, presentation and plating.
And when the conference attendees entered the Cook-Off area, they were greeted by tantalizing aromas, amazing visual food displays, and groups of poised and enthusiastic students, explaining their entries and the efforts involved in their creation.
Conference attendees had 45 minutes to taste the entries and vote, and many of them made the most of their time, going back for seconds and thirds at the various stations.
“The county vocational-technical schools cook-off has clearly become one of the highlights of our annual conference,” said New Jersey Association of Counties executive director John Donnadio.
“Our freeholders, county officials and guests were tremendously impressed with the students’ talent, professionalism and poise,” he said.
“And the food was beautifully presented and delicious. It was hard to believe that it was all done by young people who are still in high school,” Donnadio said. “I think we saw some of America’s next generation of great chefs here today.”
The ballots were counted, and the scores were very, very close in all categories. After the sampling and voting ended, the student teams and their instructors gathered for an awards presentation, which was held at the NJAC conference closing ceremonies.
Here are the results:
NJAC Judges Awards for Table Display
Gold: Three-way tie – Atlantic, Hunterdon, Mercer
NJAC Judges Awards for TasteGold: Bergen
AC Chefs Awards for Presentation
AC Chefs Award for Taste
Gold: Tie – Atlantic, Hudson
People’s Choice Awards
NJCCVTS would like to thank the following people and organizations for their help in making the Cook-Off such a great success:
The instructors and supervisors at the 11 county vocational school Culinary Arts departments, who devoted so much time, effort and energy to this competition;
The county officials who encouraged the districts to participate and provided the resources necessary to make their participation possible;
The superintendents and administrators in the districts, who supported the teams efforts;
NJAC Executive Director John Donnadio, and the NJAC staff;
Dennis Vrba and the staff at Caesars Atlantic City, who provided the professional guidance and assistance necessary to make it evolve so smoothly.