Oktoberfest started early this year for Conestoga’s first-year culinary students, who participated in the annual festival’s first-ever Iron Chef competition on October 5 at Bingemans’ Marshall Hall in Kitchener.
Students teamed up with some of the region’s most respected chefs to create signature pork dishes that would win votes from the audience and a panel of judges. The event, which was designed to raise money for scholarships as well as providing students with the opportunity to work with industry professionals, featured executive chefs and staff from Sole Restaurant, Blackshop Restaurant and Wine Bar, Bingemans, Gusto Catering Company, The Bauer Kitchen, Waterloo Inn & Conference Centre, Hog Tails Bar B Que, Borealis Grillhouse and Pub and Wildcraft Grill and Bar.
According to Gary Hallam, chair of Conestoga’s hospitality programs at Conestoga, providing students with early opportunities to test their skills in a professional context is an integral component of their studies. “This is a great way for students to engage with executive chefs from restaurants working in a real-world environment right away,” said Hallam. “As well as working with top professionals in the preparation of high quality food, the students also benefit from the connections that they make and the feedback they receive through customer comments.”
Students participating in the event have been in class for only five weeks, and were clearly impressed with the unique learning experience it provided.
Student Patrick Ferguson, who cooked with the Waterloo Inn group, found the direct customer contact particularly satisfying. “I’ve really enjoyed interacting with people and being able to sell the product,” he said. “People have to like the look of the product, the description of it, the smell and finally the taste. If they don’t like the first three, they’re not going to want to taste it.”
The pork dishes prepared by the executive chef-led teams were evaluated by the guests at the event as well as by a panel of judges, including Dave MacNeil, vice president of KW Oktoberfest, Chef Philippe Saraiva from Conestoga, and Emily Richard, P.H.Ec. The Waterloo Inn team received top honours from the judges as well as the People’s Choice award for their dish of red eye glazed pork belly, served on aged cheddar grits with bourbon palm bay local tomatoes with a bacon fat and brown sugar candy pecan.
Winning executive chef Lori Maidlow expressed her hope that the event provided valuable experience for the students. “It was a brief time we got to work together,” Maidlow said, “but all these experiences will contribute to who they are later as chefs.
The event was sponsored by Ontario Pork and raised $10,000 for student scholarships.