Students compete by using ingredients given to them in a “mystery box” to create a dish. Courtesy GRCC
Beginning Thursday, Oct. 17, two-member student teams from Grand Rapids, Barbados, Canada, Mexico and Scotland will compete in the Nations Cup, a three-day international culinary competition hosted by Grand Rapids Community College’s Secchia Institute for Culinary Education.
GRCC has presented the event every other year since 2005. Each participating country chooses its student team through its own competition.
While the Nations Cup provides an avenue for students to show off their culinary skills, chef/professor Angus Campbell and Dan Gendler, SICE director, said it’s about much more than the food.
“Our student population is primarily from Kent County, and most students do not get a chance to leave Kent County,” Gendler said.
Campbell added, “I created it because I wanted to try and get some international exposure for our own students, and to get other schools from other countries into our college to expose a greater amount of our students to them.”
To promote that interaction, GRCC provides several lunches, dinners and other social events for participating students. Gendler said organizers have continued to add social events each year the competition has been held. Though the competition days are Thursday-Saturday, the international students will join the campus Tuesday, Oct. 15.
Former GRCC culinary student Jeffrey VanderMeulen said, “My wife and I were part of the first competition, and I can honestly say it changed both of our lives as competitors and culinarians. We have participated in every single competition in the past to assist. It’s fun and it’s very cultural. It will broaden your horizons. You will never find another event that will be this dynamic in your life again — except in two years when it happens again.”
“If you’ve ever traveled around another country, you realize how that changes your life,” Gendler said. “Well simply being part of this event for three days and intermingling with the different countries is a life-changing event.
“That is why we do it. Some of those students that think they are going to stay in Grand Rapids all their lives, through these experiences, realize that they need to get out, grow and learn, and this fires a passion in them.”
The competition is set up in the style of “Iron Chef.” The first two days involve three “mystery box” competitions each. Student teams open their box to find the key ingredients around which they must create a dish.
“The main thing that they are looking for, without question, is that they identifiably serve the products that they were given in their box — that they are visible and a predominate part of the dish,” Campbell said.
The teams have 20 minutes to “shop” in the common kitchen for additional ingredients and then prepare their menu, which is submitted to the judges. Finally, they have an hour and a half to prepare and plate their dish. The judges score the dishes, utilizing a point system that looks at sanitation and food handling, organization, culinary and cooking technique and proper execution, proper utilization of the ingredients, timing and work flow, and the total kitchen and floor scores.
On Saturday, students spend the day preparing their national dinner entries, representative of their regional cuisines.
Josef Huber, executive chef of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, will serve as the competition’s lead judge. Other judges are Ian MacDonald, executive chef of Pilmour House at St. Andrews Links in Scotland; Chef Josue Villalvazo of the Instituto Culinario de Mexico, Nuevo Leon of Mexico; and Chef Joel Boone of Pistachio’s Catering in Kalamazoo.