by Olivia Catasus
En route to careers as executives at hotel chains, restaurateurs and owners of their own entertainment and events companies, majors in the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management got a taste of what makes their industry so exciting. In a recent competition that had them testing out culinary skills – not something their business-oriented studies typically focus on – eight pairs of students vied for bragging rights and scholarship funds that hinged on turning out the most delicious salmon and cocktail combo.
The contest was the brainchild of assistant teaching professor John Noble Masi. With the upcoming Deering Estate Seafood Festival in mind, Masi saw the perfect opportunity to engage the students in a friendly competition. “I went to Bacardi and told them I was doing a cocktail competition using Bacardi products and they extended $1,000 in scholarship for the winning team,” Masi explained. “I wanted there to be an incentive, aside from the wonderful recognition the students will get on stage at the festival.”
Students had less than 10 days to formulate their recipes, and Chaplin School partners Badia Spices, Bakkafrost and Golden Rule Seafood chipped in with ingredients for the plated portion of each entry. The judging panel included local foodies and community members Belkys Nerey, award-winning journalist, WSVN-TV news anchor and host of the cooking show “A Bite with Belkys;” Maria McDonald, former president of 100 Ladies of Deering; Nina Zanella, executive director, Deering Estate Foundation; and Courtney Reeder, operations director, Golden Rule Seafood. Dishes were judged on taste, presentation and creativity.
The scent of Caribbean spices, tropical fruits and Asian-inspired condiments filled the air as participants, such as Rowan Jacobs, a senior, embraced the challenge. “Most of the other students I competed against have been my partners in class assignments and SOBEWFF® events," Jacobs said, "so it was a lot of fun to go toe-to-toe with them.”
Jacobs' dish was a curry soup that featured a dumpling filled with salmon and toasted cashews and served with a sweet chili-coconut stir fry sauce. Accompanying the dish was the team’s key lime pie cocktail made with rum, key lime juice, brown sugar syrup, cream of coconut and finished off with a graham cracker rim.
“This was an incredibly difficult competition to judge,” said Reeder, from Golden Rule Seafood, who with her fellow-judges surprised everyone during the tasting deliberations. “We had such a hard time choosing just one winner," she said, "that we’ve decided to pledge another $1,000 scholarship for a second-place winner.”
First place, a share in the prize money and the chance to present their creations live on-stage at the festival on April 10 was awarded to Alexa Rodriguez and Leo Soto. Their miso-glazed-soy-sake salmon and passion fruit martini with hibiscus-ginger simple syrup and yuzu met all of the judges' criteria. Runner-up honors went to Benz Abas and Regina Dukat, whose Caribbean jerk salmon with mango salsa and mango mojito inspired the addition of a second scholarship.
“Earning this scholarship means the world to me,” said Rodriguez, a senior. “I’m constantly thankful every day for the different opportunities the Chaplin School gives us to keep learning, growing and assisting us in our education.”
Chaplin School student Rose Chusid with her key lime pie cocktailLeft to right: second-place winners Regina Dukat and Benz Abas and first-place winners Alexa Rodriguez and Leo Soto