NORRISTOWN, Pa. -- In an effort to recognize and encourage culinary students at area vocational-technical schools, Genuardi's Family Markets here sponsored a Cook Off Contest at the School of Culinary Arts, a division of the Art Institute of Philadelphia.
Eighteen teams from 10 vocational-technical schools competed for cash prizes in Genuardi's first-ever cook-off. And, based on its success, officials said it is not likely to be the last.
"This is the first of what we hope will be an annual event," said Jim McCrudden, vice president of employee, community and government relations at Genuardi's. "We would like these students and others to perceive the many career opportunities open to those with culinary training."
According to company officials, Genuardi's began hiring professional chefs about two years ago in a quest to create signature items for the chain's fresh-meals program. Since then, company interest in culinary schools has grown.
"As we look to create a menu unique to our food-court area, we have begun to reach out and get acquainted with the [culinary] schools," said Judith Lee, public relations representative for Genuardi's. "However, no formal [hiring] plan has been set."
For the contest, the three-person student teams created a multicourse meal that required them to precisely follow some recipes, yet allowed for creativity with others. Students began with a pumpkin soup, followed by herb-crusted boneless turkey breast with stuffing. They were given a variety of starch options to choose from and created dishes from roasted potatoes to a fresh vegetable medley. They also selected from various salad ingredients and were instructed to create a raspberry vinaigrette as an accompaniment. For dessert, each team prepared individual coconut custard tartlets.
The teams had no advance knowledge of the recipes, which were selected by the culinary school. Each team worked with the same menu and all finished meals were donated to St. John's Hospice, a Philadelphia charity. All ingredients were provided by Genuardi's, along with grants for each school to cover any participation costs.
The competition was supervised by Chef Michael Baskette of AIPh and judged by Genuardi's Chef Dan McDole and other chefs from the Philadelphia area.
The team that walked away with the first prize of $3,750 was made up of students from Middle Bucks Institute of Technology, located in Jamison, Pa. Team members Bill Carr, Max Veselov and Matt Ifkovitz, and Renee Albert as alternate, shared the cash prize and brought home a commemorative trophy as well.
Second- and third-place winners shared cash prizes of $3,000 and $2,250 respectively and received commemorative trophies
"This is a fantastic way for kids to realize the multitudes of avenues open to them in the food-service industry," said Genuardi's McDole. "It's important for them to be aware of culinary options beyond the typical restaurant career."
Genuardi's operates 29 stores in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey, as well as Zagara's, an upscale food emporium in Marlton, N.J.
The School of Culinary Arts is a two-year, associate degree-granting program that trains cooks, pastry chefs and restaurant managers.