If you've got the culinary questions, the college team's got the answers

The Baltimore Sun

Ready for a food quiz?

What do you call a dried meat used by North American Indians that has been powdered or shredded, then mixed with fat to form a solid product?

If you answered pemmican, get ready for another query.

What are the four basic rules of baking?

Answer: ratio, sequence, time and temperature.

Now, smarty-pants, tell me the dimensions of foods that have a batonnet cut.

Answer: 1/4 inch by 1/4 inch by 2 inches by 2 1/2 inches.

If you got these questions right, and if you blurted out each answer in less than 10 seconds, then you might be able to hang with the prize-winning team of students from Baltimore International College.

The team, composed of Adam Lewis, Jeff Lyons, Kevin Keller, Megan Cirincione and Carrie Brittain, recently won the American Culinary Federation's Northeast Knowledge Bowl in Boston. The Baltimore team bested contestants from four other culinary schools in the Northeast and will compete for the national title this July in Orlando against winners from three other regions of the country.

I met with the Baltimore winners last week at the college, and they recounted their victory.

They told me that the culinary competition is modeled after the quiz show Jeopardy. Questions are pulled from textbooks, such as Culinary Fundamentals, written by the American Culinary Federation, and the works of the French chef Auguste Escoffier.

They told me how, two weeks ago, they got up before dawn on a Friday and drove seven hours to Boston. There, they negotiated that city's fabled traffic; they got lost a few times but managed to find their hotel. Then on Friday night, armed with about 2,000 flash cards with the questions written on one side and the answers on the back, they hunkered down. Instead of going out on the town, they ordered pizza and quizzed each other with the flash cards.

They went to bed early, but Cirincione reported she didn't sleep well. "I kept waking up, dreaming of flash cards," she said.

The next morning, they walked about a mile from their hotel to the Westin hotel on the Boston waterfront, the site of the competition. But they took a wrong turn, had to scramble and almost missed the 8 o'clock start of the contest.

"We walked in, and they said you are on," Lewis recalled.

"We didn't have time to be nervous," Keller said.

They won their first three games, then lost to a team from the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute. "That team was very good and very fast," Lyons said. They had a woman who knew the answers about baking questions before the questions were fully articulated, he said.

But the Pennsylvania team had incurred one loss. Because it had the same record as the Baltimore team, the two squared off again, in a tiebreaking match. That match ended in a tie, so yet another match was staged.

Throughout the competition, the mood was tense. Lewis objected when the members of one team, not just the captain, were voicing answers. That is against the rules, and the judges chastised the offenders. When the Baltimore team ticked off the dimensions of the batonnet, at first the judges said the team's answer was incorrect. But the Baltimore team challenged this ruling. A textbook was consulted and Baltimore won its appeal.

Sometimes in the heat of competition, Lewis said, his mind almost froze, even when he was faced with an easy question. "An apple that has a green skin, is tart and has many uses in baking ... that had to be a Granny Smith," Lewis recalled. It was.

There were other times, however, when no one knew the answer. Since wrong answers would cost the team points, team members sat in silence. "When they asked questions about primal cuts of meat, all you could hear was the crickets chirping," said Brittain.

The turning point in the final match came when Lyons picked a 30-point question about shellfish.

Why, the judges asked, do you never store fresh shellfish in fresh water? Because, Lyons answered, that will kill the shellfish.

That answer put the game out of reach for the Pennsylvania team, and Baltimore went on to win 180-70.

Each member of the victorious Baltimore team got a handsome trophy and a shiny gold medal.

Last week, back in Baltimore, the team members were busy mapping out the practice regime that will prepare them for the national finals in July.

They are going to make even more 3-by-5 cards and quiz each other weekly. They might ask each other, for instance, what is the name of a mayonnaise-based salad, using apples and nuts?

If you said Waldorf and think you are up to a more rigorous test, check out the American Culinary Federation Web site, acfchefs.org, and search for "test your knowledge."

You can find out what type of stock should be used when you're making a light-colored or clear meat glaze. The answer, an ordinary white stock, is worth 40 points.

Correction: In last week's column I inadvertently added a fourth dimension to the description of a batonnet cut. It is 1/4 inch by 1/4 inch by 2 to 2 1/2 inches.
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