The road to San Pellegrino

I clearly remember the night I found out I wanted to compete in the San Pellegrino competition.  I was watching the San Pellegrino Almost famous event through the live stream at home.  I didn’t know much about it other than that Brian from Kendall was competing.  I meticulously watched the awards ceremony in awe. The unbelievable celebrity panel, the venue and the experience every student there was having there.  I was envious.  I watched Brian win the mystery basket, and Luis humbly win the signature dish and overall win.  It was right then and there than I knew I wanted that.  I wanted to win the Pellegrino competition.  I wanted to go out there and win to prove to myself that I could.  I wanted to win every portion of the competition, take the whole thing in a landslide.  Not out of greed or arrogance, but because I want to be the best that I could be and that the only thing that would stop me was myself…and what the hell, why cant it be me who wins?  So that night I set that goal.  Locked it away in my mind and never forgot about it.  I was going to devote myself entirely to winning that competition from that day forward.

Before I get to far into this, I also must give a big thanks to the chefs/mentors who have really gone out of their way to help make all of this happen.  With out them I don’t know where I would be. Michel coatrieux, Ben Browning, Pierre Checci and Pierre Pollin.  Thank you.

So with every dish comes a process that gets you to where you want to go.  Though when creating a dish for competitions it is a bit different.  In restaurants you have a small window to develop an idea and the conceptualize it, as well as in some cases limited resources.  You have to struggle to create around the busy schedule already in the kitchen as well as staying in line with the style of the restaurant you are in.  You dont get the time to research and practice as much.  Though when it comes to being in culinary school, the world is yours.  Every year we know this competition is coming and we begin to prepare for it well in advance.  So around october is when we began working on the dish knowing that the regional competition doesn’t start until February.  So the process starts with an idea and one thing that I like to do for inspiration is to cruise around google typing in random words related to food that im currently thinking about.  After a while I happen to run across a picture of a dish that I later found out was a french laundry dish.

This was the picture which really started it off for me.  It caught my eye because it was a base of flavors that I loved that I would turn into my own.  The flavors I saw were “midwestern meat and potatoes”, a fatty tasty hollandaise sauce and a beautiful cut of mid rare lamb… om nom nom nom.

practice, practice. practice… then practice once more.
So after days and days full of long hours in the library and late nights looking through videos,blogs and articles I came up with something that I liked.

After a couple trials of playing around with some of the individual components this was the first run through of the dish.  The potato was a bit of a no brainer since it was just a matter of cooking it very slowly in flavored olive oil and then searing it on one side.  There were two main concerns with the dish.  The first being trying to figure out how to get a perfect circle of mousseline around the lamb loin and have it stay around the lamb without using meat glue.  Then there was the matter of trying to figure out what to do with the sauces.  In the picture above there are only two.  A light vinaigrette with the salad and a thin lamb glace.  I later decided to add in a third sauce after doing some research in escoffier about hollandaise sauces and then around the same time tasting chef Ryan’s foyot sauce from lunch dining room.  She served a grilled beef loin with the foyot sauce and after tasting it I thought it was so good that I had to figure out a way to incorporate it.

So sauce three (foyot) was born as well as a little bit of refinement from the other components.  As you can see the potato tuille was also born.  This is made by blending the scraps,  There was also then the idea to start having a focus on a specific region.  In terms of my experience of flavors and what I liked it was decided to go in a Mediterranean direction. 

So finally the dish was born and with a little luck and the hard part behind me, I won the regional competition that was soon to change my life.

More to come friends…


So its been a week after getting back from the San pellegrino competition and just now has everything really started to settle down.  Ive finally got a little time after finishing the presentation part to the big capstone project at school, so I come back to blog.  I probably wont get it all done tonight, but ill start off with a tease of some pictures and links.

Here are the links to the interviews I have done so far…all the media attention has been so exciting yet somewhat surreal.  We have a public relations class that I took at Kendall…never thought I would really get so much out of it!


Daily Herald

The dish that changed my life.
This was the cooking stations I had…unbelievable.

Hanging out at the French laundry, nbd.
My inspration

Vallodolid tapas competition: Im still on Spanish time, so itll get done late and after some iberico and fine wine

So this next competition was quite a big one.  It was essentially an international Tapas competition that was put on by the International Culinary School of Valladolid.  It is a school in Valladolid Spain that has not been built yet, but looks very promosing.  The competition consisted of  15 students from all over the world including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Puero Rico, Ireland, Sweeden, Denmark, Bulgaria,France, italy as well as a few others.  We all came together to create our signature dish using local as well as spanish flavors.
     In order to qualify I had to create my signature dish, have it be judged at school, get selected from the competition team and then practice it vigourously.  The dish I created was a Porcini crusted rabbit rack with black garlic alioli, manchego crisp with saffron cherry onion marmalade and rabbit rillete with parsley and paprika.  I know what everyone really wants is to see all the great pictures and stories from spain.  So ill start off with a little teaser of the pictures that Chef Zonka, who went with me, has posted and then eventually get around to mine.

The start of competitions

    My competition career really began for me around one year ago when I won the Kendall tryout to compete for the chaine des rotessuer competition.  My schedule regularly consisted of 6 am classes till 11 in which I would scurry over to one of the kitchens and desperately try to find a spot to practice in until 3.  That then led to me banging out a tower of dirty dishes and then literally sprinting (still in my chef whites) to my car to try to only be slightly late to work.  After service and breaking down I wouldn’t get out till around 1 a.m. which then led to the pleasure of statistics, food history and human resource management homework.  I lost just over 15 pounds during that time in a very unhealthy way…and I did all that to watch all that hard work get taken from me.  I was excited to be competing at regional level for the chaine des rotessiuer competition, but with a couple of dumb mistakes that road ended in Minneapolis.  I sat at the ceremony watching someone wear the medal that I felt I deserved and my face cringed and stomach twisted worse than Ive felt in a very long time.  That was the single most hectic and stressful three months of my life.  I never wanted to go through that ever again.  I never wanted to feel that hurt ever again…I was nearly ready to give it all up right there.
     Going through competitions can be a real emotional roller coaster.  You get that sweet taste of victory and its damn addictive.  Though losses hit you like a bag of bricks.  After a loss or a bad practice I find myself saying: why am I here, why do I do this, why do I waste this time money and effort for nothing, I should quit culinary school all together, I put out nothing but garbage food, might as well quit now.

After heading back from that Chaine competition Chef Checci could easily see how I was feeling, he saw the disappointment eating away at me.  It was than that he really helped set me straight.    You cant go into events  with the sole goal of doing it to win.  If your doing it just to win,  you might as well give up now.  You cant go into every event expecting to win them all, its impossible.  You cant let a loss break you down to the point of giving up.  Yes it hurts, but its only through learning from it that you will grow.  There has to be an inner motivation that is going to breed the persistence to make you committed.  What started out as an outlet to get that taste of victory became an incredible way to learn about food.  It wasn’t so much about the competitions anymore so much as the road to getting there.  Working with the massive amounts of talent I have available to me at Kendall became a daily routine.  I would constantly be doing different types of practices to learn about new techniques, flavor combination, ingredients and a way to start memorizing great recipes.  There wasn’t a day you could go by without finding me in the library or in one of the kitchens at school constantly striving to be better…for myself.

First post

So as I have gone through my journey in food I cant help but feel that I should catalogue all that I have been doing in a more productive form than facebook.  Something to look back on for myself as well as something for others to see some cool food or get some ideas from. 

For those who don’t know who I am my name is Marco and I am a student at kendall college.  Ive got my associates degree already and am right around the corner for my bachelors degree.  You will quickly learn that I am a pretty competitive person and love to learn about food.  I truly feel that food is an every day adventure and one can never learn enough.  I like to compete in as many food competitions as I can and practice constantly for them.  I guess you’ll learn more about me as I write, so for now heres some of my most recent food.  This will be a bit of a big one since its my first one and its been quite an exciting month or so…

Green city market

So this was a mystery basket competition which was actually with a partner.  Sabrina worked on the pastry side and I did the savory food.  The interesting thing about it is that the final competition would be outside at the green city market.  So we wouldn’t have any type of oven and only had some dinky portable burners.  

My dish title:
Rosemary scented goat chop with White sweet potato puree, kale wrap of heirloom eggplant and little darling cheese, crispy kale, pickled shallot, red wine reduction.

 Mini doughnuts with yogurt zabaglione, thyme and white wine poached apple, macerated pineapple cherries and raspberry jam.

 My first big check, how exciting.

 Competition judges, Carrie Nahabedian from NAHA, Sarah Stegner from Prairie Grass, Ryan Poli from Perennial.

 We worked hard practicing and ended up winning.  We got the scholarship money as well as a nice whustof knife kit.  Not bad for just cookin some food =)

Kendall student competitions
 So at school we had a couple small competitions that was amongst a few hand selected students.  We each made a small appetizer dish that the guests for that nights dinner then would vote on which was their favorite.

 This was my dish for the first one.  It was a porcini crusted lamb loin with smoked kale and cabbage roulade, and micro cabbage and basil salad with concord vinaigrette.  I really liked this dish, I didn’t win with this one but people seemed to like it.  really classical flavors and traditional method which I really like.

For the next event I did a much more contemporary style dish.  The focus for both of these events was to use products from the green city market as well as the kendall  garden.  So with that in mind I wanted to try and show the product with as natural flavors as possible.  Concord grapes are in season and really tasty right now so I wanted to highlight those again.  Though the thing everybody hates about them is the seeds.  So it made sense to me to make a sphere of concord juice using calcium and alginate in order to get that great intense flavor, without those pesky seeds.  It then had fresh jupiter grape juice, raspberry, opal basil and a white balsamic gelee.  Picture doesnt do much justice, but i ended up actually winning this time.