Chow Town

JCCC culinary team wins ACF National Student Team Championship

Red beet puree and baby beets with yellow microgreens, poached salmon topped with saffron salmon mousseline, salmon ceviche on compressed yellow watermelon and corn disk, cured and smoked salmon belly with horseradish panna cotta.
Red beet puree and baby beets with yellow microgreens, poached salmon topped with saffron salmon mousseline, salmon ceviche on compressed yellow watermelon and corn disk, cured and smoked salmon belly with horseradish panna cotta. Jill Wendholt Silva

Most schools have a football team for students to rally around: Johnson County Community College whips up school spirit with its championship culinary team instead.

The five-member JCCC culinary team won the American Culinary Federation National Student Team Championship. The team represented the Central region and competed with three other regional winners and a military team to take top honors.

The team strutted their stuff in front of an audience and judges working in mini kitchens set up on the trade show floor at Bartle Hall on Monday. They received news of the win Tuesday night at a gala dinner held at the Kansas City Downtown Marriott as part of the conclusion of a four-day ACF national convention held July 25-29 attended by more than 1,000 professional chefs across the country.

The JCCC team practices throughout the school year, perfecting techniques and dishes for a series of timed competitions, including a recent international competition in Korea. 2014 JCCC team members were Jessica Seely and Katie O’Connor, Overland Park; Matt Phillips, Hillsboro, Kan.; Raquel Kramer, Kansas City and Kathryn Ratzlaff of Lawrence. Coaches Felix Sturmer, professor of hospitality management, and Edward Adel, assistant professor of hospitality management, guided their efforts.

“I had a good feeling about this group,” Sturmer says. “They liked each other and really respected each other and seemed to build on the strengths and weaknesses of each other.”

Even so, Sturmer made the difficult decision to cut a team member between the end of March regional and the national competition.

As team members chopped, whipped and stirred at nationals, Sturmer hung back behind the seated audience. “I was absolutely nervous,” he told me later. “Everything looked good (on the plate) and when you’re competing at that level, it’s a pretty even playing field.”

The style of the ACF competition was different than others the team had attended during the year. “We decided to take a step back,” Sturmer says of the team’s winning strategy. “We decided to play it safe. (The judges) want to see good fundamentals. They don’t expect students to do molecular gastronomyy or plating that is too contemporary.”

Last week I was invited to attend a practice session for nationals held at the college. The team created 24 identical plates every 30 minutes to create a four-course meal. I popped back by the convention to watch things come together again. The teams are graded on a long list of criteria, including mise en place, sanitation, presentation, nutrition, technique, creativity as well as flavor, texture, taste and doneness.

Here’s what they served the judges:

Appetizer: poached salmon topped with saffron salmon mousseline on fennel and apple salad with chives dressed in lemon, creame fraiche with caviar and micro seabean; red beet puree and baby beets with yellow microgreens, cured and smoked salmon belly with horseradish panna cotta, wilted argualt, warm pancetta vinaigrette, sweet picked shallots and a carrot chip; salmon ceviche on compressed yellow watermelon with blue corn disk.

Salad: petite summer greens, red ribbon sorrel, frisee, red romaine with rhubarb and strawberry dressing; burrata filled with freshly made ricotta cheese, drizzled with basil oil; a thin slice of speck with an avocado fan, tomato and peach salsa and marinated heirloom tomato wedge; spiced cracker.

Entree: lamb loin encased in chanterelle mushrooms, oregano and pine nut farce; spicy lamb sausage with caramelized onions; a reduction sauce with blueberries and Shiraz; puree of fresh green peas with a hint of mint; baby carrot, sugar snap peas and sauteed Swiss chard; roasted corn and feta cheese bake; poummes dauphine in a quenelle shape.

Dessert: chocolate mousse with flourless hazelnut inlay; Rainier cherry compote; raspberry sorbet on a hazelnut tuile; garnished with a chocolate design.

Earlier this week JCCC’s culinary program also received international recognition from the World Association of Chefs Societies, a prestigious honor shared by only 35 schools in the world, and just two others in the United States.

I will be following a year of practices with the 2014/2015 culinary team. Watch for my occasional Chow Town updates.