By Maureen Halley
Director of Marketing Communications, Anna Maria College

When thinking about how to create a 75th Anniversary event for the College’s campus community that was fun but educational, senior Ashley Garcia had an exciting idea. She asked, “What about creating our own version of the popular Food Network’s show Chopped and invite teams of student chefs to participate?” (Picture gallery featured at the end of this post.)

Once the go-ahead was given, Ashley formed a small event committee including members from student life, chefs from Sodexo, and college marketing. In order to prepare for the challenge, Sodexo chefs Alexa Merrill and Denis Gagne would lead a series of three hands-on workshops leading up to the competition on November 3rd. Weekly workshops were designed to educate interested students about nutrition, the safe handling of food, food preparation, knife skills, cooking techniques, and how to choose and use spices and seasonings. Each workshop was held on a different day, at a different location, and at a different time to make it easy for students with evening classes or athletic/club scheduled events to participate.

“In addition to learning important cooking skills and food prep, we learned how to make some great food each week,” said Ashley. Weekly recipes included pesto with orzo, tacos and pico de gallo, and an allergy and gluten-free stir-fry. “It was a lot of fun learning and cooking with friends and every week, more and more students showed up.”

On the night of the Chopped Challenge, eight teams competed for a grand prize of $250, bragging rights, and the opportunity to have their signature dish served as a special feature in the dining hall. Before the competition began, student chefs had the opportunity to review the Chopped Challenge Pantry to see what would be available to them to augment whatever was in their (yet to be revealed) mystery box. The pantry included a wide assortment of vegetables, proteins, starches, spices, and condiments of all types. (Chefs Denis and Alexa really went all out with the pantry inventory!) Once all the teams had a chance to review the pantry, they were sent to their cooking stations set up in the dining hall. The mystery boxes were distributed and teams were given 45 minutes to create their signature dishes. Ingredients from the box included one chicken thigh, two blood-red oranges, and two kohlrabi (German turnips). Kohlrabi? I’ve never seen one and until the competition, had never eaten one.

Unphased, student chefs worked with intensity to create their dishes; chopping, stirring, mixing, frying, and most importantly, laughing. Roger Kennedy, a junior and member of the SGA, football team, and a residence assistant among other things, served as Emcee for the evening and interviewed student chefs while they were busy cooking, which added great entertainment to spectators.

When the 45-minute clock expired, teams plated their dishes and brought them over to be judged based up the following criteria:

  • Presentation
  • Taste/balance
  • Creativity
  • Use of all three ingredients from the mystery box

The panel of judges included Athletics very own Mike Burlas, VP of External Relations and known foodie Hugh Drummond, President of the SGA Jim Raith, and Maureen Halley, Director of Marketing Communications. All remarked that it was very hard to pick a winner because there was so much creativity used in each presented dish. After much deliberation, the winning team was selected and the grand prize was awarded to Janiya Maloy, Jamie Nadeau, and Saylor Costa; their signature dish was called Amkitty Aloha.

“My partners and I prepared a chicken fried rice with a brown sugar sriracha marinade topped off with sesame seeds garnished with a balsamic glaze with a hibiscus flower,” said Saylor Costa. “We made a veggie salad incorporating the mystery box ingredients as well. I think that the completion was super fun but yet nerve-racking because of how realistic it was to the actual show Chopped. My favorite part was probably how hectic the last 10 minutes were. It definitely made me feel like I was on the show. It was the most favorite event that I have ever participated on campus! It makes me want to start a cooking club.”

Triquece Ware, a member of one of the teams that presented AMCAT 2021 Stir-fry and Drip a le Poulet as signature dishes, spoke about the competition. “Overall we had a really fun time and experience. Our favorite part was not knowing what we were going to make given we had a mystery box of ingredients. It was pretty cool to have to think off the top of your head quickly on what to make with the ingredients. Overall, we had a really great time competing alongside other students.”

Tiara Smith created her own take on the classic Kung Pao Chicken. “I used chicken and steak for the protein and a spicy orange sauce along with a vegetable fried rice using carrots and kohlrabi.” She shared that the thought the competition as a whole was good. “The competition was intense and brought on the heat. Someone made meatballs from scratch and I was completely blown away by the idea and execution of the dish. Even though I didn’t win I had a blast competing against and with the people who care about me.”

Members of the eight teams and their entries included:

  • Seth Zolda, Josh Alexander, and Alexis Sansoucy: “123 Special”
  • Rachel Burwick and Connor Egan: “Tuscan Chicken Tortellini”
  • Tiara Smith and AJ Parks: “A Trip to Asia”
  • Liam Egan: “Sunday Lunch”
  • Phil Berry and Victoria Hammond: “Tortellini Victoria with Chicken Meatballs & Kohlrabi, Goat Cheese salad with Balsamic Reduction
  • Triquece Ware, Carl St. Paul, and AJ Uthman: “AMCAT 2021 Stir-fry and Drip a le Poulet”
  • Jalianette Luciano and John Kelly: “The J&J”
  • Janiya Maloy, Jamie Nadeau, and Saylor Costa: “Amkitty Aloha”

Congratulations to all the student chefs for their enthusiastic participation. Mike Burlas is hoping to be an ongoing recipient of any of your culinary creations!

Many thanks to the following people who made Anna Maria’s First Annual Chopped Challenge a reality:

  • Ashley Garcia for her vision and execution of a great event
  • Sodexo Chefs Denis Gagne and Alexa Merrill for their time and talent
  • Melissa DeCastro, Dining Operations Manager, Travis Parker, Lindsay Kustigian and Horace Pollard for their support of this project and help with set-up and tear down of all the cooking stations.
  • Roger Kennedy for bringing his energy and humor as the Emcee
  • The Office of Student Life for sponsoring this event and providing the grand prize along with six great raffle prizes for participants
  • And our panel of judges who enjoyed tasting all the submitted creations and lived to tell the tale!

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