Competitive edge


POSTED: Wednesday, June 03, 2009

According to Alan Tsuchiyama, it's not “;practice makes perfect,”; but “;perfect practice makes perfect.”;

The Kapiolani Community College instructor is the team leader and coach of the school's Junior American Culinary Federation Competition Team, which will be vying for the national title next month at ACF's national convention in Orlando, Fla.




Exclusive luncheons


        Prepared by the Junior American Culinary Federation Competition Team, to raise funds for competition and to practice preparation:

» Place: Tamarind Dining Room, Kapiolani Community College


» Dates: June 5, 12 and 26


» Call: Linh Hoang at 734-9570 for cost, reservations


» To make a donation: To assist the team, send checks to the University of Hawaii Foundation, P.O. Box 11270, Honolulu 96828; or visit www.uhf.hawaii.edu. Specify payment to the “;KCC ACF Jr. Chapter Team.”;


Tsuchiyama and team coach and manager professor Frank Leake are carefully watching their student cooks in action on a recent Friday, helping them hone their competitive skills in the kitchen as they attempt to prep, cook, plate and clean their workplace in a brisk and efficient manner. Making sacrifices on their own, the student cooks have to press on during this month of practices if they want to win the gold.

Out of 400 teams, Team Hawai'i has already proved itself by winning the state and Western regional finals to lead up to a chance to bring home a national championship. But first, the team must raise some $40,000 for their trip to Orlando. To prepare for the contest, the self-dubbed Team Hawai'i will cook and serve the four-course meal they will make in Orlando in a series of fundraising luncheons at KCC this month.

Team Hawai'i will take on such formidable competitors as Northeast region winner Pennsylvania Culinary Institute, Central region winner Schoolcraft College of Michigan (a 2003 winner and '06 finalist) and North Carolina's Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College of the Southeast region (2003 and '06 finalist and '07 winner).

“;What's helped us to succeed,”; said team captain San Shoppell, “;is that we're also cooking for fundraisers, partnering up with other charitable organizations, guest chefs from abroad who have worked with us as mentors, private funding and networking with other professional chefs here. Our goal is to execute at our highest levels next month.”;

Back in the kitchen, sous-chef Anna Hirano keeps a watchful eye on a couple of digital clocks, reminding her teammates—manager Ken Yi and cooks Shoppell, Keaka Lee, Tate Nakano-Edwards and Rena Suzuki—of the time they have to make their first plating and service of an appetizer of wild-caught opah, and butterfish and kampachi from the Big Island.

While the team doesn't want to divulge the specific dishes for this meal, as they also will be used in competition, Tsuchiyama does cite some culinary highlights: Nalo Farm greens in a salad; an entree that uses a meat component, mango and—“;pulling our Asian influences”;—hoisin and soy sauce; and a dessert that includes braised vanilla bean, pineapple and coconut sorbet.

Team Hawai'i works with a calm and purposeful rhythm, each member concentrating on their task, occasionally asking for help with a response of “;thank you”; and “;hai”; (Hirano and Suzuki are originally from Japan, with Yi from Los Angeles and Lee, Nakano-Edwards and Shoppell from Hawaii).

Serving two tables of 10 apiece, Leake said that the student cooks “;have to pump out 96 plates in 40 minutes.”; In preparing the practice lunches that start serving at 11 a.m., the students' day starts early with a half-hour of prep time, about three hours and 20 minutes for cooking, the aforementioned 40 minutes for plating and a final half-hour for breakdown and cleaning.

The student teams will be judged on presentation, whether the food is properly cooked and served at a proper temperature, and even kitchen sanitation and recycling of ingredients. (Sixty percent of the final score will come from taste, according to Leake.)

“;We've been with the students for seven months now,”; Tsuchiyama said. “;It is Frank's and my—as well as the students'—belief that competition doesn't stop after the classes are done. Since taking our competitive cooking classes last fall, it's not only about practice and fine-tuning the cooking, but marketing and fundraising as well.”;

“;I think what we've done is the equivalent of what the UH football team did to get to the Sugar Bowl,”; Leake added. “;Team Hawai'i is the best team west of the Mississippi and, we hope after the nationals, the best east as well. This is big for the state.”;