SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Overlooking Casco Bay on a serene Sunday morning, a storm brewed in the kitchens of Southern Maine Community College, as the region’s top young chefs battled for culinary supremacy in the Chaines des Rotisseurs Jeunes Chefs Rotisseur Competition.
Sunday’s winner will move on to the national final in Denver in October, with the national champion representing the United States in the international competition in St. Petersburg, Russia, next February. The winner will gain the title of “Young Chef of the Year.”
The Chaines des Rotisseurs is a second generation of a 13th century French guild of the same name, which served as the goose roasters to the French Royal Family. It was resurrected in 1950 as a fine food and wine society. The Jeunes Chefs Rotisseur Competition, for amateur and professional chefs under 27 years of age, began in 1977, and for the past two years, the United States has produced the international champion.
Each competitor received a “market basket” of seven key ingredients, including lobster, mussels and Maine shrimp, and four hours to produce a three-course meal. Once competition begins, the chefs have 30 minutes to develop a menu of an appetizer, entree and dessert, three hours of preparation time, and another 30 minutes to plate up four servings for the judges.
From the clang of pans and dishes to the low hum of blenders and sizzle of frying pans to the aromatic smells, the scene inside SMCC’s industrial kitchen was a sensory explosion.
SMCC’s own Casey Taylor of Kennebunk began his meal with a seafood stew and a Maine
shrimp salad. Taylor, in his first competition, said that he was a late convert to cooking.
“I haven’t always wanted to cook,” he said. “I just chose it and fell in love.”
At the next prep table, Andrew Coen of Boston, a senior at Johnson and Wales University of
Providence, prepared a Parisian gnocchi with braised mussels. Like Taylor, Coen also developed his love for cooking over time, “I got kind of thrown into it in my senior year of high school,” said Coen. “I wasn’t going to go to college, but I did this competition called Skills USA and ended up winning nationals.”
Coen feels that his victory at the 2009 Skills USA Commercial Baking Contest has prepared him to face the deep field at the Jeunes Rotisseur Competition.
“There’s a lot of great competitors here, but we’ll just see what happens,” he said.
In the other kitchen, the second wave of chefs began their preparation time, including the
defending Northeast Regional champion, Brett Brennan of Niagara Falls Culinary Institute.
“Once you do a few mystery baskets, you really get the hang of it,” said Brennan. “Ultimately
you want to create really good-tasting food.”
Kitchen judges observe the preparation and cooking techniques, while three professional judges and three amateur judges each grade the dishes based upon presentation, originality and taste. Professional judges are typically culinary instructors and chefs, while the amateurs include culinary professors’ wives among other food experts.
Martin Frei, an instructor at Culinary Institute of America, oversees the judges and feels that the nonprofessional judges provide needed balance.
“It gives them a nice mix in the grades. As a professional judge, sometimes we look at things maybe a little too critical,” he said.
SMCC Culinary Arts Department Chair Geoffrey Boardman said that his classes do not even
begin to simulate the pressure of such a high profile competition.
“You can coach them in menu balance,” he said. “All that you can stress is, ‘Look at your sanitation, professionalism, organization, knife skills, cooking technique, because that is what you are going to be graded on [in the kitchen]’”
The Chaines des Rotisseurs will donate $5,000 to the SMCC scholarship fund for hosting the