Slice, dice, sauté and bake the way to a first place finish. That’s what some area executive chefs try to do several times a year at culinary arts competitions.
For Augusta Country Club executive chef Marvin Herrera, preparing foods for a judging panel hones techniques and challenges his creativity.
“Competing makes me think about food in a completely different way than you can imagine. It sharpens my skills and craftsmanship,” he said.
In June, Herrera competed for a spot on the American Culinary Foundation team representing the U.S. at the International Culinary Exhibition held every four years in Erfurt, Germany, also known as the “culinary olympics.”
“That is a huge goal of mine. To one day be part of the U.S. culinary team,” he said. “Just to compete at that level with the elite and best chefs in the nation.”
American Culinary Federation competitions are one to two days each. Chefs compete in various categories including hot and cold foods, pastries, a six-course dinner and show pieces such as chocolate and vegetable carvings.
At many competitions, the ingredients are kept secret until chefs open a box containing all the foods that must be used. Thinking on your feet is part of the challenge for executive chef Greg Mueller of Doctors Hospital.
“(Chefs) are all competitive people. It gives us a really good creative outlet that maybe you can’t serve customers,” he said. Mueller added that his work schedule doesn’t allow time for sport hobbies so culinary competitions fill the void.
Mueller has several tool boxes filled with knives, pots, pans, specialty equipment, mixers, pasta machines and all the kitchen utensils a chef needs in the kitchen.
“You’re putting your kitchen in the back of your car,” Mueller said about traveling to competitions. He has competed in 22 events.
An ordinary day working in the kitchen helps chefs prepare for competition. When Herrera prepares menus at the Augusta Country Club, he thinks about food items that can be refined for competition.
International competitions also provide an opportunity for American chefs to showcase their products to the rest of the world while learning from the best chefs from across the globe, Herrera said.
“Over the years, the U.S. has become well-recognized world wide for the talent and food that we have,” he said.
Mueller said competitions don’t compare to television food shows. On TV, chefs work quickly without care for keeping the kitchen clean and organized, he said.
In competitions, judging criteria includes precision, cleanliness, organization, appearance, professionalism, taste, time and working with chef apprentices.