Words and photos by Susan Able
On Monday, March 21, twenty-three students from the L'Academie de Cuisine's (LADC) fall 2016 class were divided into three teams. Two days later, they would be competing against each other to see who could win the most points preparing and serving a complicated, multi-course luncheon of their own design to some very particular judges. This challenge is LADC's traditional end-of-semester competition. Like many cooking competitions, there were ground rules. Six courses. A canapé and mignardises (a very small dessert, usually served at the very end of a meal with coffee) were required. There were must-use ingredients for certain courses such as lobster, cheese and veal tenderloin. As soon as the teams were formed, the work began in earnest with menu development and testing; then on Wednesday, cooking began at 8:00 a.m., with a hardstop, "hands up" deadline of lunch service starting promptly at 12:30 p.m.
I was honored and happy to serve as a judge for this competition, joined by the estimable Chef Francois Dionot, the founder of the L'Academie and Chef Cedric Maupiller of Convivial and Mintwood Place. The French language flowed freely in the judge's room and I soaked up the Gallic gastronomic atmosphere which was only enhanced with a glass of Pouilly-Fuissé, helpful when one is readying to taste and score 24 different plated courses from the three student teams.
As Chef Francois, Chef Cedric and I wended our way through courses of soup, seafood, cheese and dessert, we tasted carefully and made notes. The three teams were judged on taste (the biggest score), presentation, originality and correct temperature. It was a close match up, with each team absolutely nailing at least one dish with the caliber of taste and presentation that would be welcome in any fine restaurant, and then, well, presenting a dish that still needed some thought or more practice. As we debriefed the culinary students on their outcomes, we congratulated them on an an incredibly impressive effort as they prepared to leave the LADC classrooms to begin six month internships with various commercial kitchens and restaurants around the DMV.
Chef Cedric was happy to see that his two new incoming interns had done good work on some of the top scoring dishes of the day. He explained, "These competitions are very important, they help students prepare well for the stress and level of service required in a restaurant. Not only do you have to have solid cooking skills, but you have to be able to handle the pace, the pressure and think on your feet. Things go wrong in professional kitchens too, and you have to be able to rebound instantly. This kind of competition is part of that preparation. It builds confidence."
My personal favorite? Butter poached lobster, served perched over fresh pasta in a lobster cream sauce. Congrats Team A on this deliciousness.
L’Academie de Cuisine, founded by Chef Francois Dionot, has been training pastry and culinary chefs for more than forty years. Named one of the Top 10 Cooking Schools in the U.S. and Canada, and Best in Culinary Schools in 2016, L'Academie offers a one-year, three-phase culinary and pastry programs combining hands-on training and six-month paid apprenticeships.
L’Academie de Cuisine also provides culinary education to the general public for recreational purposes, and offers short term courses at their Bethesda branch facility for cooks of any age or experience with same chefs who teach at the professional culinary school.
New classes for professionals start March 27, and recreational classes are ongoing. For more information or the class schedule, go to https://lacademie.com
Susan Able is the Publisher and Editor in Chief of Edible DC. The energy and passion of people who grow and make food inspire her and she loves chronicling their stories.