Winner, winner, chicken dinner.
Or, in the case of Utah Valley University Culinary Arts Institute students, winner, winner — pork tenderloin and country sausage roulade with herb-leek inlay, Utah honey-jalapeno lacquered rib with natural jus, and carved sumac-roasted pork loin dinner, with a fluted dome filled with Bavarian cream, mango-passionfruit compote, toasted macadamia nuts and butter sablé for dessert.
UVU Culinary Arts students Lindsay Peck and Sarrenity Dickson won the American Culinary Federation national student of the year awards in the savory and pastry categories, respectively. The award ceremony was held in Las Vegas, Nevada, at Caesars Forum Conference Center in front of 1,000 of the nation’s finest culinary educators.
COVID-19 restrictions canceled the regional qualifier for the ACF national student competition, so 14 culinary students competed this year, as opposed to the customary four.
“Competition was really stiff this year. It would have been incredibly easy for these students to slack off in their preparation because summer is the time to have fun,” said UVU Culinary Arts Institute Chair Chef Troy Wilson. “Seeing their commitment, their focus, and the amount of work they put in to prepare for this competition, kudos to them.”
Competitors were allowed a 15-minute setup window, 2 hours to cook, a 20-minute plating window and 10 minutes to clean and exit their station.
Although Peck was initially nervous to begin competing, as she began to cook her dish she noticed that she had drawn a small crowd from the aromas of her kitchen.
“I was actually having a blast in the kitchen as all the muscle memory from my months of practice was kicking in and everything was going well,” she said. “I couldn’t stop smiling.”
When Peck called “service” to mark the end of her time, the judges informed her that she had made the window with only six seconds to spare.
“When they told me that, I let out a laugh of relief,” she said.
In the end, Peck prepared an amuse-bouche (small complimentary appetizer) of salmon, scallop and lobster savory crêpe with smoked lox, watercress emulsion, country dill cream, crispy capers, coral chip, sieved egg and caviar, and an entrée of bone -in pork loin trio.
Peck contributes her success of winning Student Chef of the Year to her mentors at UVU, especially Chef Todd Leonard.
“I could not have achieved this incredible accomplishment without Chef Todd,” she said. “He has the knowledge and the experience to instruct not only how to cook amazing food, but also how to compete on the next level. He sacrificed huge amounts of his own time to make this dream happen for me. He believed in me long before I believed in myself. I cannot thank him enough for all he has done. Every instructor at UVU CAI has prepared me for this competition. The hands-on experience I received there was educational, fun, and prepared me for my work in the industry.”
Peck hopes to travel the world to gain more experience as a cook and eventually open her own restaurant.
Rising to the top as Student Pastry Chef of the Year was Dickson, whose assignment was to create a pastry that captured the essence of Las Vegas: “Tropical Oasis in the Desert.”
Dickson prepared a fluted dome filled with Bavarian cream, mango-passionfruit compote, toasted macadamia nuts and butter sable with a pineapple cremeux, ganache-filled zeppole, coconut créme fraîche gelato, mango-kiwi salsa and bittersweet Cémoi chocolate sauce, all garnished with a dried pineapple tuile representing the Las Vegas Gateway Arches.
Additionally, Dickson prepared a petit four — a small confection typically served after a meal — consisting of whipped caramel cream, fresh banana, raspberry puree and Baumkuchen cake, encased in Arriba milk chocolate, each decorated with either a spade, club, heart or diamond. .
“When I learned that I was Student Pastry Chef of the Year, I just couldn’t stop smiling and I thought I was for sure going to cry,” Dickson said. “I was surprised, but at the same time not. I knew what I had put up was good and I was proud of it no matter what. I was happy, and that was all I could ask for.”
Like Peck, Dickson attributes her success to her mentor, Chef Diana Fallis, and the entire UVU CAI program.
“Chef Fallis and I would sit down for hours and come up with ideas, and then we would take it to the kitchen and test everything,” she said. “She was there for every run-through I did and gave me critiques and pointers on what I could do better on my next run-through.
“The culinary school was a huge support. Every single one of my chefs helping me through my hard days and giving me pep talks when I needed them. The office staff included! They were some of my biggest fans. They’ve been my family and friends for the last two years, and I love all of them more than words can say.”
Learn more about the UVU Culinary Arts Institute by visiting https://uvu.edu/culinary/