Just like the Spartans competed in ancient Greece millennia ago, today’s Spartans continue to push their competitive boundaries. From athletics to academia to culinary arts, Michigan State Spartans are participating in challenging showcases to remain marvels in their respective fields.
Culinary Services (CS) and Spartan Hospitality Group (SHG) believe the power of competition can increase creativity and skill level, so each year the departments encourage staff participation in the Culinary Cup and Bake Off. Established in 2001, the Culinary Cup features regular and temporary team members, following a format similar to the TV series “Chopped,” as teams of two battle it out in the kitchen until one is left standing.
“This is something the full-time and temporary staff definitely look forward to all year long,” Paul Rinella, CS culinary coordinator and event organizer, said. “It becomes a big deal. With both Culinary Services and Spartan Hospitality Group invited to compete, the event has garnered significant attention.”
The 2018 competition, emceed by Shawn Rawson, RHS facilities supervisor, and Jim Steingreaber, RHS facilities manager, took place in South Pointe at Case May 10. Fifteen teams were randomly assigned to three flights. During each flight, teams must prepare and plate one dish in 45 minutes. The winner of each flight then competes in a one-hour final competition. Simple enough. But then there’s a twist – mystery ingredients are introduced in each flight.
Because each team in the flight is provided the same ingredients, dish creativity is a key component. The panel of Culinary Cup judges included Sparrow Hospital Executive Chef Laura Fellows, MSU Assistant Vice President for Human Resources Sharon Butler and MSU Residence Education and Housing Services (REHS) Executive Director Ray Gasser. Each judge scored the finished entrées on presentation, taste, texture, completeness, originality, plate composition and use of the mystery basket ingredients.
The winning team of the first flight, Rico Y Sabroso, composed of Jean Gil-Coto and Rolando Hernandez from Brody Neighborhood, captivated the judges with their creativity, making resourceful use of the mystery ingredient, Rice Krispies to craft breaded chicken.
When presented with the Rice Krispies, Hernandez was a little worried. “I didn’t know how to use them,” Hernandez said, “but since I was making the chicken crispy, I thought if I put it on as a topping, it would give the chicken an extra crisp.”
To their delight, Rico Y Sabroso went on to win the Culinary Cup when the judges unanimously declared them victors, impressed by their creation of seared lamb topped with sauce that incorporated the four mystery items from the final round: steel-cut oats, sun-dried tomatoes, lamb porterhouse and Maggi, a liquid seasoning resembling soy sauce.
This was the team’s second time competing, which meant fewer nerves and more confidence. “Since I know what it’s all about now, it’s easy for me to have fun with the food,” Hernandez said.
Throughout the competition, chefs utilized unique cooking techniques and styles developed throughout their careers, all in an effort to ‘wow’ the judges. Fellows was impressed by the use of secret ingredients during the event, particularly how the teams joined them with other elements of their dish.
“Some ingredients just lend themselves to cooking and putting them on the plate,” Fellows said. “But, others you can really incorporate in a lot of different ways. And they’ve done a fabulous job with that with breading and sorbets and all kinds of things.”
Chef Fellows came to the event with the goal of being the “harsh” judge, wanting to really give the event that “Chopped All-Stars” feeling. “I look strongly at creativity,” Fellows said. “You really want to see a cohesiveness among the flavors, so that one portion of it isn’t, say Asian inspired and another Latin inspired. That’s really the key thing here.”
Teams also pre-made cheesecakes for a chance to be named the 2018 Bake Off champions. You can just imagine the sweet aroma with 13 cheesecakes in South Pointe! This year’s theme allowed chefs to combine their own individuality with the classic sweet dessert. Nichole Grimmett of East Neighborhood, deemed Sugar Grimmlin, took home the winning trophy and worthy title with her accidental creation of a blood orange cheesecake.
“I had been planning on doing a key lime pie-style cheesecake,” Grimmett said. “I was going to do a practice run, and we were out of limes. So, I tried orange, and people loved it.”
Her dessert, which she nicknamed “A Slice of Life,” consisted of blood oranges smothered with dark chocolate ganache, handmade orange chocolates and candied orange pieces. Judging for the Bake Off was conducted by CS Human Resources Coordinator Donyelle Hayhoe, REHS Assistant Director of Outreach Karen Corley and REHS Associate Director for Diversity and Inclusion Sharon Chia Claros. They were all able to go home with a satisfied sweet tooth after this competition!
Lunch at the event was provided by the CS retail team, with a menu incorporating dishes from Sparty’s Market, Sparty’s, Starbucks, MSU Concessions, the Eat at State ON-THE-GO Food Truck and food courts. The units each contributed to the meal, with signage themed after the Periodic Table of Elements.
Overall, the event more than met its purpose – CS and SHG employees were able to compete to showcase and improve upon their skills, attendees had a chance to taste delicious recipes and the overall morale of team members increased.
“It was meant to be an appreciation event and to allow chefs to show off their skills,” Rinella said. “People seemed to enjoy themselves. We had fun, and the judges seemed to enjoy all the dishes that were presented.”
CS and SHG employees will take the challenging and exciting experience with them as they incorporate their creativity into MSU’s future culinary endeavors.