Vocational-technical school culinary students wow county officials

| May 20th, 2018

The 2018 NJAC County Vocational-Technical School Cook-Off Challenge teams (Russ DeSantis Photography and Video, LLC)

People’s Choice judges sample Atlantic’s AC Crudo (Russ DeSantis Photography and Video, LLC)

It was the event everyone at the New Jersey Association of Counties annual conference had been eagerly anticipating:

The Seventh Annual Cook-Off Challenge featured a feast of flavors and an extraordinary display of talent, poise and skills as county vocational-technical school students battled for awards and recognition on May 12 at Caesars Atlantic City.

Each of the 11 county teams was required to create and prepare a savory appetizer or hors d’oeuvre for consideration by three panels of judges, who spent a very happy (and delectable) hour moving from station to station, speaking with the students and sampling the entries.

“It was one of our best cook-offs ever, and a spectacular closing event for the conference,” said NJAC executive director John Donnadio.   “Our Freeholders, county officials and business partners were awed by the innovative and delicious entries, the students’ enthusiasm and professionalism, and their creative food presentation and displays.

Ocean students prep their Barnegat Light Mac and Cheese (Russ DeSantis Photography and Video, LLC)

“County officials were completely stuffed after sampling 11 different entries before completing their ballots for the People’s Choice Awards, and the vote tallies on taste, presentation, student knowledge and professionalism, and station displays were the closest we’ve ever seen,” he said.

The team from the Monmouth County Vocational Culinary Education Center won the People’s Choice Gold Award, the top honor at the competition, for their entry, Coconut Seafood Bisque with shrimp, saffron and lobster meat.  The district will defend its title at the 2019 cook-off.

The other 2018 participating districts and their entries were:

Hunterdon’s team chose a James Bond theme for their Smoking Gun Risotto (Russ DeSantis Photography and Video, LLC)

Atlantic County Institute of Technology:
AC Crudo, with scallops, tapioca pearls, watermelon radish and blood orange

Burlington County Institute of Technology:
Korean Chicken Potstickers, with cranberry barbecue dipping sauce

Camden County Technical School:
Chicken Gumbo Stuffed Chicken Wings, with rock shrimp and Andouille sausage

Gloucester County Institute of Technology:
Angry Prawns, with shrimp and Tasso ham

Hunterdon County Polytech:
Smoking Gun Risotto, with house-cured Pancetta, locally-forged ramps and crisp pork belly

Burlington students present their Korean Chicken Potstickers (Russ DeSantis Photography and Video, LLC)

Middlesex County Vocational & Technical Schools:
Seared Mediterranean Cod, with a Parmesan risotto cake, Kalamata olive tapenade and lemon-basil gastrique

Ocean County Vocational Technical School:
Barnegat Light Scallop Mac and Cheese, with scallops, Gruyere and Parmesan cheese, heavy cream and mushrooms

Somerset County Vocational & Technical School:
South Pacific BBQ Pork Slider, with citrus ginger slaw

Sussex County Technical School:
A Taste of Sussex County, featuring venison tenderloin

Warren County Technical Schools:
Peach Marinated Grilled Shrimp, with shrimp and peach marmalade

During the set-up period, Caesars Executive Chef for Banquets and Catering Tim Davis, who has served as a cook-off judge for several years, spoke to the students about career opportunities at major resorts like Caesars, where culinary responsibilities include multiple restaurants, specialized events and room service.

The Sussex team at their station (Russ DeSantis Photography and Video, LLC)

As the noon opening time approached, the aspiring chefs worked feverishly to prepare for the onslaught of hungry judges.

The three teams of judges – a group of professional chefs, a group of NJAC officials, and all registered conference attendees, who voted for the People’s Choice Awards – evaluated the entries in several categories.

Here are the results of the voting:

NJAC Judges Taste:
Gold – Monmouth
Silver – Gloucester
Bronze – Ocean

Warren’s Peach Marinated Grilled Shrimp (Russ DeSantis Photography and Video, LLC)

NJAC Judges Station Display:
Gold – Sussex
Silver – Gloucester
Bronze – Monmouth

Professional Chefs Judges Taste:
Gold – Middlesex
Silver – Camden
Bronze – Gloucester

Professional Chefs Judges Presentation:
​Gold – Ocean
Silver – Middlesex
Bronze – Sussex

People’s Choice Awards:
Gold – Monmouth
Silver – Ocean
Bronze – Gloucester

The Camden team prepares Chicken Gumbo Stuffed Chicken Wings (Russ DeSantis Photography and Video, LLC)

Middlesex students finish the Seared Mediterranean Cod  (Russ DeSantis Photography and Video, LLC)



The Monmouth team won the People’s Choice Gold Award with their Coconut Seafood Bisque (Russ DeSantis Photography and Video, LLC)

The Gloucester County team at their station (Russ DeSantis Photography and Video, LLC)

Somerset students set out their South Pacific BBQ Pork Slider (Russ DeSantis Photography and Video, LLC)

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