Competing for Culinary Convenience

Published in CSP Daily News

Chefs, retailers pair up in inaugural FARE Culinary Competition

By  Abbie Westra, Editor-in-Chief, Convenience Store Products

SCHAUMBURG, Ill. -- Pair a group of noncommercial chefs and traditional convenience store operators together for a culinary competition and what will you get? A banh mi mock taco, a Tuscan stew with panzanella salad, a grilled chicken cobb sandwich with ranch remoulade and a deconstructed chicken salad served with sauteed root vegetables--all packaged to go for convenient consumption.

Four teams competed in the inaugural FARE Culinary Competition at last weeks' Foodservice at Retail Exchange (FARE) in Schaumburg, Ill. They were challenged with creating and cooking a dish that not only looked and tasted great, but would also fit well on a foodservice-at-retail menu.

The winning dish: the Asian banh mi "maco" from Andrew Franco, executive chef, Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes, Canastota, N.Y., and Laurence Shiner, executive chef, Western Illinois University, Macomb, Ill.

Participants were given 75 minutes to prepare, package and serve an original and innovative on-the-go style meal item. They were judged on a 10-point scale in four categories, each weighted equally: taste, creativity/innovation, presentation/appearance and portability/convenience. The dishes could be considered grab-and-go or made-to-order and either travel well for later consumption, or easily eaten quickly or on the go.

To create their dishes, teams had to use at least one product from each of the sponsor companies, including chicken from Pierce Chicken, breads from Amoroso's Baking Co., salad dressings from Kraft Foods Inc., to-go packages from Sabert Corp., and condiments from French's Foodservice. Contestants also had a pantry of staple items to work from. Ingredients were revealed one week prior to the competition, so teammates could begin the brainstorming process.

Reflecting the cross-channel idea exchange of FARE, teams represented a mix of foodservice channels. Each contestant brought their strengths to the team—be it a skilled eye for convenience and retail merchandising from the c-store operators, or culinary competition experience from the college & university and health-care chefs.

Following are the teams and their dishes:

Winning Team

Andrew Franco, executive chef, Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes, Canastota, N.Y., and Laurence Shiner, executive chef, Western Illinois University, Macomb, Ill. Dish: Asian Banh Mi "Maco": Crisp flatbread with spicy glazed chicken, pickled vegetables, peach pico, avocado ranch sauce and a pineapple, black bean and red pepper salad.

Other Participants

Ryan Conklin, executive chef, Rex Healthcare, Raleigh, N.C., and Frank White, director of retail operations, Tri State Petroleum Corp., Wheeling, W. Va. Dish: Taste of Italy: Tuscan-style chicken and vegetable stew over rice; panzanella salad with tomatoes, olive oil, basil and cheese; and balsamic soaked peach salad with honey whipped cream.

Peter Fischbach, regional director of culinary development, Gourmet Dining LLC, Newark N.J., and Wade Robinson, food service supervisor, Pump N Pantry Convenience Stores, Montrose, Pa. Dish: Southwest Grilled Chicken Cobb Sandwich: Served with a ranch remoulade, a peach, black bean and couscous salad and a side of tart apples.

Keith Boston, director of prepared food & beverage, Cumberland Farms, Framingham, Ma., and Tom Coleman, director of retail dining, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind. Dish: Deconstructed Grilled Marinated Chicken Salad: panzanella salad served with sautéed root vegetables and balsamic vinaigrette and finished with a balsamic glaze.

Competition judges were Pat Cobe, senior editor, Restaurant Business magazine, Oak Brook, Ill.; Bob Derian, corporate executive chef, RaceTrac Petroleum, Atlanta; and Jim Roth, executive chef, Elmhurst Memorial Healthcare in Elmhurst, Ill. Justin Waldrep manager of food safety and quality assurance for RaceTrac Petroleum, served as food safety judge.

The winning teammates will receive personalized FARE 2013 chef coats and lodging at FARE 2014, which will be held June 16-18 at the Gaylord Texan. Stay tuned to www.foodserviceatretail.com for more details.

By Abbie Westra, Editor-in-Chief, Convenience Store Products
View More Articles By Abbie Westra