By Lexus Yamashiro | Staff Writer

Team Hawaiʻi of the KCC Culinary Arts program placed third with silver after competing in the Cook. Craft. Create. American Culinary Federation (ACF) National Convention and Show from July 11 to 13 in Orlando, Fl. The team, comprised of six culinary student chefs, competed against three regional colleges and a Hawaiʻi military team at a ballroom in Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort—resulting in one gold, two silver, and two bronze medals.

The team first started with a cold platter consisting of rabbit, corn, peas, habaneros, and red lentils. All five teams were given five hours to prepare it and three hours to plate it. Chef Jason Peel, the lead instructor for the team, shared that this was the first time that the teams were required to produce an edible platter, compared to the previous years where the cold platters were made to only be a display for the judges to critique.

Team Hawaiʻi’s four-course menu was on display for audience members during the gala event of the Cook. Craft. Create ACF National Convention and Show. (Photo courtesy of the Culinary Arts program)

Following this, Team Hawaiʻi created four dishes based off of a menu that they created beforehand. Student chef Christian Rae Wong admitted that she and her fellow team members technically did not finalize their menu until the week before they had flown to Florida.

“We were constantly changing or constantly improving until we left,” Wong said. “We were really trying to keep it to us and to what we thought represented Hawaiʻi.”

The competition required a four-course menu to which the team produced the following: lobster chawanmushi with black garlic and truffle; melon and tomato salad with avocado, yogurt, sesame and yuzu, Thai chicken with green curry and coconut; and mango mousse, passion fruit curd, vanilla panna cotta, and raspberry-lychee sorbet. Teams had 110 minutes to prepare four dishes per meal in mock kitchens in front of a live audience.

Wong shared that working in an unfamiliar kitchen that had open distractions was a challenge for herself and the team, especially since they were facing electrical problems resulting in having to use butane burners instead of stove tops. However, the amount of preparation that they had since their win in February in the ACF Western Regional competition pushed them to display nothing but their best.

Based on a 100 point scoring that was not disclosed to the teams, Chefs de Cuisine Association of St. Louis Inc. took gold. State University of New York at Delhi took silver in second place following with KCC’s Team Hawaiʻi also with silver but in third place. Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College placed fourth with bronze, concluding with Team Hawaiʻi Advanced Culinary Arts Training NCOIC placing in fifth with bronze.

Although the team was striving to earn the gold, Wong shared that she and her teammates were content with what they were able to produce for the judges. The menu, which was based on the ideas of the student chefs, was influenced by the cultures of each team member.

“Hawaiʻi’s very culturally diverse, and not everywhere in the continental U.S. there’s a lot of Asian influences … not as prominent as Hawaiʻi,” Wong said. “The team has always agreed with sticking to our roots and our influences to creating something that we’re proud of, and I think it’s worth doing again.”

Typically, according to Chef Peel, menus that are presented in these types of competition normally carry European cuisine styled dishes. However, he along with the team and assisting chef instructors David Brown and Alan Tsuchiyama have constantly felt the need to emphasize Hawaiʻi’s culture through cooking.

“It’s hard to not follow your passion as far as the students want to make; you got to be proud of what you make,” Peel said. “You put all your heart and soul into it, and you don’t want to win with something that you’re not proud of [and] the students did a really good job of … creating something that they believed in.”

The Culinary Arts program enters these competitions annually. Wong shared that if she were to be a part of the team again, she would continue to showcase Hawaiʻi’s culture through the team’s menu in an effort to present what KCC and Hawaiʻi as a state have to offer.