Food Services recently had a chance to speak with New College Executive Chef James Piggott about one of his favourite annual campus projects: the inter-university Iron Chef competition. The application process for student chefs for the February 2018 competition is now underway (APPLY HERE, the deadline is December 19th). The excitement and momentum is building, so we thought it would be a great time to ask Chef James exactly what he likes about being involved with Iron Chef.
“I’ve always enjoyed the teaching aspect of the culinary world, and Iron Chef gives us a great chance to mentor students, teach them excellent skills and an opportunity to participate in something that is a little different than their regular campus academic or extracurricular activities,” says Chef James.
“The competition is also a time for us to build community on campus, and also develop relations between students and the Food Services department,” he adds.
Chef James says that he is not necessarily looking for students with extensive backgrounds in the food industry. He says that potential applicants should not be afraid to throw their hat in the ring even if they don’t have formal kitchen experience.
“We’re really looking for students who want to learn something new, who will come to the training sessions and take them seriously and also those who will participate with an open mind. And obviously we are looking for students who really want to compete and have a competitive spirit,” he says.
The training sessions, he notes, can be quite intense. There is always a lot of fun to be had, but there are only six practices before the competition, so students have to be focused and committed as they train.
Chef James notes that there are a lot of crossover lessons from the kitchen that can be applied to every day student life.
“Working in a kitchen is not just a matter of knowing how to use a knife. It’s also about understanding the importance of timing, of order, of being organized and neat, about food safety and about keeping your station clean. Plus, you also need to know how to think on your feet. These are all really good life lessons from the kitchen,” he says.
One of the most challenging elements of the competition is the famous “Black Box” experience whereby student chefs are presented with a black box of mystery ingredients and have to use all of them in various capacities as they prepare their dishes.
“Obviously, this is the toughest part because you can be completely removed from your comfort zone by a particular ingredient. It could be an ethnic ingredient you have never heard of or a unique ingredient from some other part of the world that you have never seen before and you have to hit Google pretty quickly. In the best case scenario, you get a familiar ingredient that you are confident about using to pair up with your protein,” he explains.
The competition, he adds, is rewarding on a number of levels. Students really enjoy making interesting and creative dishes that are presentable and edible. And cooking also has a unique way of bringing out their creativity.
Chef James says he’s primarily looking for an ambitious and hardworking team that wants to win.
“Last year we came in second, and we want first place this year. I’d like to encourage students to apply for a spot on the team and show us what they’ve got. It’s going to be a great time and a really great experience for all and we are in it to win it,” he says.
Interested? Apply here!