MCC students learn from culinary competition

By Martha Marteney - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Thu., Apr. 7, 2011
Meriden resident Anthony Martorelli deglazes the sauce for the main course as part of MCC's culinary competition team. Photos by Martha Marteney.
Meriden resident Anthony Martorelli deglazes the sauce for the main course as part of MCC's culinary competition team. Photos by Martha Marteney.

On March 20 to 23, students of Manchester Community College’s culinary competition class participated in the American Culinary Federation’s Northeast Regional Conference, held in Columbus, Ohio. It was an opportunity for the students to compete against students from eight other schools. The team from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., was the winner of the student team regional championship.

MCC adjunct instructor Marc Hussey has led the class for the past four years. In the first year of the two-year program, the focus is on classical French cuisine. In year two, “We take it up a notch,” said Hussey. In the competition, the students prepared a four-course meal, for which the only required element was chicken Catelane as the entree. The students had 90 minutes to prepare the meal from scratch. The only advance preparation allowed was the peeling of vegetables. The students were also evaluated on their knife skills and the preparation of a cold buffet platter.

“What you do in competition is refining your craft,” explained Hussey. “You’re working on the details.” He said the students need to have confidence in their skills and know the recipe, so that they can move from one step to the next with complete organization and self-discipline.

This year, Anthony Martorelli of Meriden, Manchester resident Joseph Mott, Paul Stern of Ashford and West Hartford resident Mandy Carrier teamed up for the preparation of the food, with Dan Foley of Enfield serving as the team’s “fifth man,” responsible for keeping the team on schedule and organized. Fellow student Patrick Sweeney, of Vernon, was unable to attend due to a work conflict. “I started taking classes four years ago as a hobby,” said Sweeney, “and now it’s kind of an addiction.”

Martorelli was responsible for the main dish, including making sausages, the mushroom sauce and the chicken. Mott prepared the salmon appetizer, which involved filleting the fish and using the baked skin to finish the plate of lentils and roasted pepper coulis. The roasted beet and goat cheese salad was created by Stern, with multiple steps needed to wrap phyllo dough around a ring of goat cheese filled with a bantam egg. The meal was completed with a dessert “trilogy” by Carrier of saffron pannacotta, a roasted shallot and pear tartlet, and chocolate peanut butter brittle.

Stern, a former editor of The Hartford Courant, considers himself semi-retired, and is taking the MCC culinary course in preparation for opening a bed and breakfast.

Many of the students have already begun their culinary careers. The MCC course will enable them to move forward to positions such as sous chef. Hussey works with the students to develop a philosophy about cooking, which underscores that flavor comes from good cooking methods. He also focuses on utilizing everything as a way of respecting the food.

Martorelli runs the pizza department at the Manchester Highland Park Market. He has already been in the food services industry, and is finishing his associate’s degree. He selected the competition class because of the attention to the details. “It makes you stop and think,” he said, “Even if no one else knows [all the steps] you do.” He values the competition as a way to push himself to go outside his comfort zone.

“I took the class to push myself,” added Mott. He works for Ted’s Montana Grill in South Windsor, and said it is the best feeling when people like his cooking. This is his third year at the competition. “It’s all about working with flavors,” said Mott. He especially likes to work on the buffet platter, which is a cold dish featuring different cooking methods and presentation to utilize a sturgeon.

Carrier graduated from the MCC culinary program in May 2010, and manages the St. Vincent’s soup kitchen in Middletown. She decided to continue with the competition course to keep her skills honed. She has also learned valuable techniques for using all the ingredients to make the most of the food. While she may not make a “dessert trilogy” at the soup kitchen, she can bring with her a higher respect for the food, and the knowledge on how to prepare flavorful foods with simple ingredients.

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