The reality of professional cooking comes down to team work. Without it, you’re in big trouble
NOV 20 14 – 12:30 PM — Forget the yelling and screaming that seem to be trademarks of some TV cooking shows. And don’t pay too much mind to the occasional sautéed bug and slimy whatnot that may pass as avant-garde culinary entertainment these days.
Really good cuisine is frequently the most simple, competently and tastefully assembled by a team working behind the scenes that knows what it’s doing. And that last part about teamwork is critical, because if the kitchen crew can’t get along and co-ordinate their role with others running the front of the house, then the choreography collapses into chaos.
Which was precisely the lesson driven home on Saturday during the fourth edition of Battle of the Knives — Sharpen Your Senses competition at Algonquin College. This year 10 teams, each composed of two culinary arts and one hotel restaurant management student, had to work together to prepare a theme three-course menu with specific key ingredients, as well as create an alcoholic cocktail and non-booze mocktail, within some pretty tight time limits. And the server hotel restaurant student had to decorate the table to embellish the theme.
The contest was conceived by chef/instructors Mario Ramsay, Cindy Toffenallo, and Enrico DeFrancesco of the hotel restaurant faculty.
While it’s not unusual to see to see cooking contestants challenged to use selected ingredients, this competition included an added dimension where contestants didn’t know who they would be working with until the last moment. All teams were picked at random, members had to agree on a theme, then the cooks had to adapt each recipe they created in advance to decide how best to represent the theme.
Bottom line: Work together, or fail.
“The whole idea is to promote team work because in the industry, even if you may not get along, you still have to work as a team to get the job done,” Toffenallo says.
“So here, two culinary arts students and one hotel student have gone over their menus and worked together to combine components for a winning plate. And hotel students have brought in wines and decorations to match the plates, and they also have to design a complementary cocktail.
“The whole concept is built on keeping your senses sharp – hence the name Battle of the Knives.
“I live by the mantra, ‘your knife takes you where you want to go.’ So if you have precise cutting skills and control, that is the style of restaurant you will work towards. If you have the idea that you want to work at fine dining but your knife skills are hack-up-vegetable technique, then that is the style of restaurant you will be working in.”
This year each team had to cook with three whole trout and six pears. They also had access to a basic pantry items including with fruit, vegetables, dairy and bakery ingredients, herbs, oils and vinegars. Judging the food this year were chefs Kyle Mortimer-Proulx of Lowertown Brewery and John Morris at the National Arts Centre.
Some pretty impressive presentations, I’d say.