Competing at the Baron H. Galand Culinary Knowledge Bowl is a lot like the competitions you see on televised food networks. Although there’s no food preparation involved (and no visible sweating!), the stakes are high. Students must respond to challenging culinary, baking, nutrition, sanitation and math questions, including identifying ingredients by using all of their senses.
After winning seven consecutive regional tournaments since 2010, Kendall College has placed in the national Knowledge Bowl competition, winning it three years, earning second place two times and experiencing more than a few tie-breaking moments on the national stage. This year, I sat down with the team’s coach, Kendall’s Dean of the School of Culinary Arts Chef Dina Altieri, to ask her about the preparation that goes into each competition and how it helps set our students apart.
When you are putting together the team, which attributes do you look for?
The major value I’m looking for is professionalism—players who will represent the best of Kendall. Second is academic prowess. It’s difficult to memorize thousands of pages of material and spit out answers in a split second. Third is adaptability and flexibility. It’s a team sport.
What’s the training regimen like?
We practice as a team every week for several hours. We vary the elements of our practices, which means they range from group study sessions to intense buzzer drills.
This is not just rote memorization. They’re quizzing one another.
Exactly. I believe students should play a role in what they’re learning and influence what their teammates learn. I also involve several people in the team trainings, including previous players and chef instructors. It takes a village!
Did this year’s team have any international members? What are the challenges for those students?
Nikhil Bendre, who is from India, played this year and will be my captain next year. International students have a significant learning curve. It’s a great example of their bravery just to come to study at Kendall. He’ll be the youngest captain I’ve ever had. It speaks to his professionalism and academic ability.
Please share one of the most memorable moments from these competitions.
One graduate, Jackie Wallner, epitomizes the professional quality of these players. At one point in the national competition in 2011, we knew we were going to win. There was no way the other team could come back. Toward the end of that round, she spoke into the microphone with a soft voice and said, “Excuse me, judges, I’d like to make a substitution.” She substituted her alternate so she could take the team to the finish line. The crowd was silenced. You would think the captain would want that moment. I realized then that the team was learning things I didn’t directly teach them: humility, teamwork, professionalism and leadership.
Although you didn’t win the national title this year, what did you and your team learn?
I’m always disappointed when my team loses, but I have to pinch myself and say we should be grateful for the loss. Just being given the opportunity to strive for a goal like this shows you’ve given yourself a chance. If you never try, you never have the opportunity to win or lose.
Coaching is so fulfilling. I’ve grown a ton doing this. At the national competition a few years ago, we were beat in the first game and then the second game. We were two up, two out, dead last with no medal. It was the worst-case scenario. I had two potential returning students for the next year. I didn’t know if I could rebound, so I took some time to reflect. A few days later, two students from the team came to my office. They said it’s not an option to take time off if we are going to win next year. They wanted another crack at it and for me that was the clincher. It was so powerful to hear them say that.
In 2015, that team was undefeated and became the national champions. They were right. You have to get back at it. Everyone on our team is a fierce competitor. When these students graduate, they leave here as chefs and kitchen managers, but in my mind, they’re rock stars. I’m so proud that our team has elevated the quality of the competition year after year. I am beyond grateful to the American Culinary Foundation, the coaches and competitors for what this experience has given to our students and myself.