Penn State chefs shine at culinary conference

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- June 19, 2013, was a proud day in Penn State Housing & Food Services as word came in that a group of eight technical service employees had won a culinary competition at the 2013 Chef Culinary Conference in Amherst, Mass. The group, along with a chef from the University of Massachusetts, competed in the California Asian Fusion Challenge sponsored by Johnson & Wales.

The challenge was part of the Cultural, Healthy and Full Flavored Foods Lecture and Production at this year’s conference. The event required participating teams to write a menu that consisted of two soups, two appetizers, one salad, a vegetarian dish, as well as main course plates featuring beef, poultry and seafood. Zach Lorber, from Penn State Altoona, led the team. He assigned each team member a course and they selected their protein. The team then had 30 minutes to write the menu.

“I assisted each of the cooks in crafting their dish and we discussed plate composition, textures, colors, garnishes and plating,” said Lorber.

From there the team had two hours allotted for production before they had to meet, discuss the dishes and decide which three would be presented for judging. To determine what three dishes would be submitted to the judges, the team assembled sampling plates for each member. After tasting each dish they voted. The top three dishes were the king crab won ton appetizer by Penn State Harrisburg’s David Cramer, the Korean braised chicken and bok choy by University Park’s Mark Davis, and Lorber’s spicy fish cake with shiitakes.

Out of a possible 60 points, the Penn State team scored a 54.5 for the win. 

“When we found out we had won the competition, we were ecstatic,” said Cramer. “The judges loved our food and we thought we had a chance to win. It was a great feeling to know that we won as a team, and that we represented Penn State with pride and integrity.”

Lorber echoed Cramer’s feelings saying, “We were very proud of the dishes we crafted and a little surprised that we beat out so many other great chefs. The pride of winning motivated the team to work hard in the competitions the next two days and it reaffirmed our confidence to make great food.”

For most of Penn State’s team, this was the first time they attended the Chef Culinary Conference, the mission of which is to advance food choices in college and university food service. Davis and Kelly Riggleman from Altoona were the only repeat attendees.

Each Penn State participant had their favorite aspects of the conference ranging from the lectures to the demonstrations to the workshops. They each wanted to learn as much as possible while there.

According to Lorber there was a great deal of discussion focused on food trends and the future of food. He learned more about the growth in South American cuisine, the desire to know the origins of our food and a continued focus on sustainability.

The conference emphasized healthy, flavorful and environmentally responsible food options, while also exploring Asian, Latin American and Mediterranean influences. Ultimately, the focus was on the customer.

Today’s students are looking for more variety in our menus,” said Cramer. “They aren’t just eating chicken fingers and hamburgers anymore. They demand healthy, fresh and sustainable options on our menus.”

Penn State’s participants and the dishes they prepared in the California Asian Fusion Challenge were:

·      Sue Hohman (Findlay Dining Commons, University Park) – ginger chili beef with mango

·      Jessica Ingraham (Penn State Erie, The Behrend College) – beef pho

·      Kelly Riggleman (Penn State Altoona) – eggplant pad thai

·      Mark Davis (West Dining Commons, University Park) – Korean braised chicken and bok choy

·      Zach Lorber (Penn State Altoona) – spicy fish cake with shiitakes

·      Shannon Lose (South Food District at Redifer, University Park) – hot and sour pork soup

·      Elissa Eckenrode (Findlay Dining Commons, University Park) – Asian crunch salad with apricots

·      David Cramer (Penn State Harrisburg) – king crab won ton

For more information on the 2013 Chef Culinary Conference, visit



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Last Updated July 08, 2013