Metropolitan Community College’s Institute for Culinary Arts
“In competition, we work very hard to highlight the foods that are important to us here in Nebraska. Every decision on our menu considers seasonality and provenance,” says Brian O’Malley, interim executive director of the Institute for Culinary Arts at Metropolitan Community College (MCC).
That decision served his group very well as MCC’s Culinary Team Nebraska won their first-ever national award this year at the American Culinary Federation’s student team championship, which was held in Orlando, Florida. In addition to taking part in various skill salons where members were tested on fish or chicken butchery, vegetable cutting or pastry skills, Brian says the team worked together to create four signature courses with 24 portions each.
“There are five people on the clock at competition. One acts as kitchen steward, so they don’t do any cooking or cutting, but the other four who are cooking will each prepare one of the dishes. They help each other where needed, but we set it up with one course per person,” he says.
To prepare for the competition, Brian says they started training in August of last year. Once a week all the team members would get together and practice their dishes. After they won the regional competition earlier this year in Little Rock, Arkansas, they had to start practicing making 24 portions instead of just four.
“With a larger quantity of food that we were producing, we wanted to be sure we were utilizing the opportunity to get feedback from as many people as we could. We put together tasting workshops through the foundation at the college and twice a week invited members of the community to come in, taste and evaluate the meals for us,” Brian explains.
He says the tastings were a core piece of the training that helped his team get ready for nationals.
“This year we took pains to include food from our travels in the competition. As we drove to Florida, we knew that we would be in the height of peach season and passing through peach country. So we programmed our dessert to feature Georgia peaches. So while they weren’t local to Nebraska, they were local there,” he says.
—Story by Cheril Lee