Over the last few years the culinary industry has become more widely known for its unique and challenging competitions, thanks to a handful of popular television shows, such as “Chopped,” “MasterChef,” and “Food Network Star,” to name a few. In the culinary arts, competition is one of the principle whetstones upon which we as professionals can sharpen our skills and push the boundaries of our creativity and technique. As a coach to six winning regional American Culinary Federation (ACF) Knowledge Bowl teams and three winning national ACF Knowledge Bowl teams here at Kendall College, I’ve spent years helping our students compete and often win major challenges involving mystery baskets of rare ingredients, or in the case of Knowledge Bowl, an intense Jeopardy-like trivia board of questions.
Despite the celebrity that has become associated with a number of well-known culinary competitions, the true benefit of competing in such a venue is not fame or name-recognition, but is instead the learnings that the experience provides. This is why year after year Kendall sends a team to compete at the ACF’s Knowledge Bowl.
We compete for critique. The opportunity to receive feedback on our knowledge and skills is invaluable. In many competitions, the opportunity to participate is all the more intriguing when it also provides an opportunity to work with judges who are established and recognized in the industry. In essence, a competition offers a unique venue to take “learning from the best” to another level.
We compete for experience. Unlike a culinary classroom—which is unquestionably intense and challenging, but also designed for nurturing and education—a competition creates an environment that is a challenge for every competitor, every time. In our never-ending quest for improvement, win or lose, we always learn. Michael Jordan once said: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
We compete to grow our network. Standing shoulder to shoulder with others who strive for excellence draws out the best in us as culinary professionals—and this is certainly true for students who are looking for inspiration and to construct a network of like-minded professionals. Learning from our peers and knowing other experts in the industry can have countless benefits on future success.
In the end, high-stakes competition may not be something that everyone embraces with open arms. And this is okay because, of course, competition is hard and the pressure is high. However, I encourage all my students to consider participating in one of the many culinary arts challenges that happen locally, regionally, nationally and globally, because a culinary competition only costs you the things you want to lose: self-doubt, poor technique and misunderstood culinary concepts.
Congratulations to the Kendall College 2015 National ACF Knowledge Bowl champions and thank you for your hard work and inspiring dedication.
Chef Dina Altieri is the dean of the Kendall College School of Culinary Arts