Adding to Saratoga’s reputation as a top small-city food destination, Skidmore College hosted the 8th Annual American Culinary Federation (ACF) conference and competition from January 9-11. In addition to hosting the festive and food-filled event, the liberal arts college also excelled at the ACF culinary competition, winning its sixth consecutive gold medal (more on that in a moment). The conference featured a number of fun events and activities across campus, including presentations on winemaking and baking, a Cabot cheese tasting and a five-course luncheon on Thursday, January 10, prepared by Skidmore’s Executive Chef Jim Rose and the Skidmore culinary team. Also on Thursday was a discussion and screening of The Bullish Farmer, a documentary about Skidmore alumnus John Ubaldo, a former Wall Street banker and current owner of John Boys Farm (a free-range farm in Cambridge, NY, that uses zero pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers).
The main event of the conference, though, was the ACF Market Basket Competition at the college’s Murray-Aikins Dining Hall on Friday, January 11. The all-day, intensive competition began bright and early at 6am and featured four-person teams from 11 different colleges or universities across the Northeast, including, of course, Skidmore. Participants had to develop, cook and serve a four-course menu (three courses, plus a buffet course) all from the same array of mostly local ingredients. (Think: Chopped.) The teams started every 30 minutes and had two hours to cook, then just 15 minutes to plate.
The final judging started at 3:30pm, after all the cooking (and tasting) had ceased, and Skidmore led the competition, earning the highest total points and a gold medal (Cornell University placed second in the point tally and also earned a gold). Skidmore’s Culinary Team, which included Chefs Joe Greco, Daniel Salazar, Matthew Holton and Shelly Carpenter, prepared a winning four-course meal that consisted of braised local pork belly with sweet potato puree for an appetizer, bacon-wrapped monkfish loin as the entree and a triple-chocolate mousse cake for dessert (and for the fourth course, a buffet item: black garlic-basted chicken with winter vegetables and chimichurri).
“It gives our staff a fun opportunity to practice and enhance their culinary skills while engaging in friendly competition with the other institutions,” said Mark Miller, Director of Dining Services at Skidmore. “[The staff] also comes away from the conference presentations and demonstrations with new knowledge and fresh ideas that often translate into tasty new recipes for the Skidmore Dining Hall menu.”
Skidmore’s Dining Services consistently achieve high rankings for food quality and affordability, and the department works with many local farms and businesses including Battenkill Valley Creamery, 9 Miles East Farm, Capital City Coffee Roasters and John Boys Farm. This year’s ten other teams represented New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and include competitors from schools such as Cornell University and the US Naval War College in Newport; as well as SUNY’s Cobleskill, Geneseo and Albany.
Judges assessed teams based on the originality, taste and presentation of their meals. Extra points were awarded or deducted for timing, teamwork, utilization of food, cleanliness and overall preparation. The judging panel comprised Upstate New York’s own Certified Master Chef and member of the ACF Dale Miller, as well as Victor Sommo, Culinary Professor at SUNY Delhi; Certified Executive Chef William G. Hohenstein III; American Academy of Chefs members and Certified Executive Chefs Michael Morgan and James G. Rhoads III; Michael Stamets, Assistant Culinary Professor at Schenectady County Community College; and Apprentice Judge John Noble Masi.