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Culinary students gain real world experience through Culinary Team USA partnership

Published: Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013 6:00 a.m. CDT

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GLEN ELLYN – A room filled with bustling people in white coats who weave around each other to grab knives and other tools may look like a scene from a hospital’s operating room, but instead of medical masks, the coats are paired with tall, white hats.

While the chefs donning these coats and hats may not be making surgical incisions with their utensils, every cut takes them one step closer to a spot on the American Culinary Federation’s Culinary Team USA.

Twelve chefs competed in the culinary team tryouts’ hot food portion on Aug. 24 at College of DuPage’s Culinary Arts Center. While hosting the tryouts distinguishes the culinary program and the state-of-the-art facilities at College of DuPage (COD), its greatest benefit is to the students themselves, who were able to assist the professional chefs as they competed.

“It’s mostly for the students to have that experience to work with chefs at this level,” said David Kramer, associate professor of culinary arts. “The experience for them is invaluable.”

Once the team members are determined within the next few weeks, the American Culinary Federation’s (ACF) Culinary Team USA will practice each month at COD as it prepares to face off against culinary teams from around the world at international competitions, including the 2016 Internationale Kochkunst Ausstellung (International Culinary Exhibition), or the “culinary Olympics,” in Germany.

Former team manager and current Team Adviser Steve Jilleba of Unilever Food Solutions in Lisle initiated the relationship with COD because of his connection to the area.

Jilleba said COD seemed like “a natural fit” for the team, based on the quality of the facilities and the lessons students would be able to take to their own competitive culinary team after working with the professional chefs.

“What we want to do is build a relationship so that we can work with their students and give back to the school,” current Team Manager Joseph Leonardi said.

The chefs vying for a spot on the team previously competed in a cold food portion earlier this summer. The 12 competitors will be narrowed down to five after decisions are made regarding the results of the hot food portion. A pastry chef also will be chosen.

One of the competing chefs is John Reed of Skokie, who previously taught as an instructor for the hospitality program at COD.

Reed, who owns a culinary consulting company and serves as president of the ACF’s Chicago chapter, said the few hours he spent in the kitchen during the competition itself was just one small piece of the process. A majority of the work comes from planning and practice.

And when the time came to actually compete, the professional chefs weren’t in the kitchen alone.

Culinary students, such as Rachel Dau, were in attendance to keep work stations and cooking utensils clean.

Dau recently completed her culinary associate’s degree and expects to finish her baking associate’s degree in December.

“Just to be able to be a part of it – even though you’re not physically cooking with them – but just to be there and to see and to pick up on things is really beneficial,” Dau said.

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