Gold medals for good taste
Local student chefs have proven cooking is an art form. No matter how many hours a person spends perfecting technique, a sprinkling of passion can open up a whole new world.
The Colorado Mountain Culinary Institute sent a team of five to the 2003 Governor’s Symposium Celebrating Colorado Cuisine, and they came back with the gold. It was the first time any of the students or their coach, Chef Paul Ferzacca of La Tour, had participated in an American Culinary Federation competition.
“We were pretty confident,” said team member Mike Winston. “We thought we’d do pretty well.”
Pretty well translated into first place, which means they’ll be representing the state of Colorado at the regional competition, held at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs the last weekend in February, 2004. In addition to Winston, the team includes Jon Miller, Mike Simmons and Matt Martin. Kyle Weaver is team captain, and the impetus behind heading to the competition.
“Working in restaurants is the only job I’ve ever had,” said Weaver. “It’s really satisfying. You bust your ass, it’s hot and you stink, but everything goes smoothly. It’s great.”
The Colorado Mountain Culinary Institute at the Colorado Mountain College, Vail Campus, is a three-year program that includes 68 college credits and 6,000 practicum hours. Practicum hours are hours spent slaving over a hot stove either during class times – taught by various local chefs in one-week stretches – or at their apprenticeships in local professional kitchens.
“This is a great job,” said Miller. “It’s a great way to travel, to see the world and other cultures. Sure, it can be rough, but if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
Miller plans on heading out to Tuscany after he’s done with school. Winston, too, wants to travel through the kitchens of the world.
In addition to being given a mushroom theme, the teams were supposed to prepare a meal, in four courses, that could be served for a party of 40. Though some teams presented highly sculpted dishes, precise and otherworldly in their design, what the Vail team presented could reasonably be served in a restaurant for a large party, said Ferzacca.
“One thing the master chef kept reiterating during the competition was to cook for a blind person,” he said. “Lamb rack should taste like lamb rack. We probably didn’t have the best presentations, but I think it just came down to flavor. It was spot on.”
Most of the teams, Vail’s included, assigned one person to a particular course. But instead of only concentrating on their own food, the Vail team member treated it like any other night in the kitchen – they watched each other’s pots and pans.
“I think they liked how we communicated,” said Miller.
When they arrived, despite their confidence in their food, the Vail team realized they were in a bit over their heads. For instance, the team from the Art Institute of Denver had spent one night weekly for a year practicing together, and two nights weekly for the past three months. Vail’s team “cowboyed” it, practicing a scant 10 times. Turns out that was all they needed.
Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 949-0555, ext. 618.
Rocky Mountain fall mushroom menu
First course: Piney River Valley chanterelle mushroom consomme with smoked trout quenelles, brunoise fall vegetables and fine herbes
Second course: Ptarmigan Pass king boletus mushrooms and baby artichokes a la Grecque with bulls blood micro greens
Third course: Roasted herbes-de-Provence-crusted Meadow Mountain rack of lamb with Lost Lake lobster mushroom and lamb sweetbread salpicon cussy, tourne potato, yellow squash and zucchini with Madeira lamb sauce
Fourth course: White chocolate and raspberry bavarois with Valrhona chocolate truffle, oak leaf tuile, raspberry coulis and creme anglaise