Student chefs make the ‘Final Cut’

What are the best dishes you can create with low-sodium beans and fish in under 60 minutes, for less than $3.30 a plate, and in front of more than 1,000 people? That was the culinary challenge that undergraduate chefs faced at this year’s Final Cut competition.

Teams representing their respective residential colleges came to Yale Commons on Feb. 21 ready to dice, chop, sauté, and fry at the fifth annual event, organized by Yale Dining and the Yale College Council. Each team was asked to prepare six small portions of an appetizer and entrée using this year’s two main ingredients.

New York Times food critic and author Stephanie Lyness, Yale College dean Mary Miller, and Yale Dining executive director Rafi Taherian served as this year’s judges, scoring each team on preparation techniques, cooking skills, and their dishes’ taste.

When asked what she looks for as a judge, Lyness explained,  “First, does the food successfully express what it is that the chef appears to be trying to achieve? It’s got to be delicious, of course. But beyond that, if it’s very fancy, sophisticated food, is it perfectly sliced and diced, beautifully presented, AND delicious? If it’s homey food, does it manage to convey a certain simplicity while being satisfying and flavorful? If it’s traditional, is it done well? And if it’s original, is it interesting and thought-provoking?”

“Second, I look for the flavors to speak to me,” she added. “They can be melded, blended, clear, bright, mellow, sharp, warm — speaking in some kind of harmony that delights my palate and makes me think about what I’m eating.”

Over 1,000 people came to Commons to watch the competition an to taste samples provided by event sponsors, which included Freshpoint, Murray’s Chickens, Barilla, MOM brands, and Farmer’s Cow. But it was the event’s main sponsors, Bush’s Beans and Alaskan Seafood, that provided the ingredients for this year’s competition: a selection of beans and four choices of fish: cod, salmon, pollock, and haddock.

A preliminary round of the competition was held in December, yielding one team per residential college. Since then, the selected teams developed and submitted their recipes to Yale Dining, and trained under the guidance of their dining hall managers to refine and practice their techniques using Yale kitchens and equipment.

The members of the team from Pierson College (Zack Bell ’14, Natalie Drucker ‘14, and Kuang He ’14) took home the grand prize of $1,000 and the copper pot trophy to display in their dining hall; the team from Davenport College (Rafi Bilder ‘16, Lucas Sin ‘15, and Alec Borsook ’15) took home $500; and the team from Saybrook College (Jennifer Wei ‘13, Shivani Bhatt ‘13, and Kavi Anandalingam ’13) took home $250.

But for many in attendance, the experience of celebrating food as a community was the real reward.

“It’s important to remember that food is not just an aesthetic experience,” summarized Lyness. “In most cultures, it’s also a social medium, even a sacrament. So for this event, there’s the additional pleasure of watching young men and women explore all the dimensions of food and cooking.”

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