Ray McCue, Associate Professor, Culinary Academics at the College of Culinary Arts
Johnson & Wales University in the US, gives valuable tips on how to prepare for your first Culinary Competition. This is especially relevant for Culinaire Malaysia 2017, as well as other future culinary competitions. The professor is also World Association of Chef Societies WACS B Judge, United States Committee Member Worldchefs without Borders, and 2015 ACF National Chef Educator of the Year.
Preparing for your first culinary competition is no easy act. There are lots of things you must take care of before the big day, like last-minute menu adjustment and food presentation, as well as ironing a clean uniform and gathering your grocery list.
The Weeks Before: You’ll want to give yourself sufficient time to develop your competition dish, so it’s best to start preparing at least two weeks in advance. Procrastinators beware! You will only give yourself a headache trying to pull everything together the night before, and chances are that you’ll end up forgetting something very important.
There are a few essential tasks that every competitor should complete in the weeks leading up to a competition. These include:
- Make sure you are properly registered with the organizing committee.
- Ensure that you have Read the Rules in your category.
- PRACTISE, PRACTISE, PRACTISE your dish.
- Create a timeline that is reasonable and accurate.
- Make sure that your dish reflects the menu. (Classical terms must reflect Classical techniques)
- Make extra copies of your menu and recipes.
- Ask your chef to critique your dish before the competition regarding flavor.
- Have a checklist of all your equipment and ingredients.
- Challenge yourself to work on areas of the dish that you feel are weak.
The Night Before: You will likely be nervous the night before, so it’s important to take steps to relax and prepare yourselves for the big day. I recommended that everyone pack their equipment the night before and double-check that they have everything crossed off the checklist. Iron your uniform, apron and even side towels. You want to look your best.
It’s best to eat a healthy meal the day before a competition. I advise you to stay away from fast food, sugary energy drinks and caffeine. Instead, opt for a well-balanced meal that will help you feel satiated and get to bed on time.
Finally, it’s important for you to get a full night’s sleep before a competition but don’t forget to set your alarm!
The Day Of: If you’ve taken care of all the prep work in advance, you can simply wake up on the morning of your competition. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get to the venue.
The judges will be watching your every move. Don’t be nervous, Smile. Their job is to teach you and make you a better chef. Bring a small notepad to critique and write down what they say. Be prepared to ask at least two questions; such as “What could I have done better?” or “Is there anything I need to improve on?” The judges will be impressed by your professionalism.
However, the most important advice I can give is to simply Have Fun!!! Don’t worry about the actual score or if you got a bronze, silver or gold. Use it as a learning experience to move forward in your culinary career.