Student creates appetizer, entrée
Austin Hannah had to wait more than a year to demonstrate his skills in a national competition. Once he had that opportunity, the Culinary Arts student impressed the judges to earn second place overall in the National Student Chef of the Year competition. The event was sponsored by the American Culinary Federation (ACF) and held Aug. 2-5 in Orlando, Florida.
Hannah competed in the Hot Foods division and placed first in that category. The first overall winner, Marissa Brazell of Oregon Coast Culinary Institute, competed in Pastry. A total of 11 students – eight in Hot Foods, three in Pastry – competed.
“Overall it was an amazing experience and I’m very appreciative of Schoolcraft College allowing me to go,” Hannah said. “I also appreciate the support and mentorship from Certified Executive Chef Chris Misiak, who accompanied me to Orlando, as well as Certified Master Chef Brian Beland and Certified Master Chef Shawn J. Loving.”
Hannah was to have competed in the ACF nationals in 2020, but it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He earned the spot by winning his area competition and was one of five students from the Central Region.
For the national competition, Hannah had to prepare four portions each of an appetizer and an entrée in two hours.
The appetizer consisted of:
- Butter-poached lobster
- Butter-poached scallops
- Green leek puree as a base
- Pickled leeks
- Pancetta (a sort of cured bacon)
The entrée consisted of:
- Flat-iron steak covered in Ras el Hanout (a Middle Eastern spice)
- Eggplant puree
- Involtini-stuffed eggplant with persillade bread crumbles to provide a crisp texture
- Quinoa tabbouleh
- Cucumber salad with yogurt, garlic and dill
- Kafta meatball
- Apricot-lemon marmalade
Extensive practice and preparation
Each selection was developed based on the list of ingredients provided to each competitor and after consulting with the chefs at Schoolcraft College. Hannah practiced literally hundreds of hours to get ready.
“With the help and support of the College, Austin was able to practice and refine his menus over the spring and summer in preparation for the competition,” Chef Misiak said. “Austin was able to have both Chef Shawn Loving, CMC, and Chef Brian Beland, CMC, coach and host practice sessions prior to the competition. This was critical to Austin’s success.”
Hannah’s goal was to create “global” flavors with each plate, starting with the appetizer.
“The seafood appetizer with the lobster and scallops was created to have a very French or European feel with very subtle flavors to let the seafood speak for itself,” he said. “The saltiness of the pancetta also reminds you of the sea. Then, because the competition was in Florida, we wanted to bring in the orange to reflect the seasonality and location.”
The same strategy carried through to the entrée.
“With the entrée, I wanted to do my own take on Middle Eastern cuisine mixed with Mediterranean style,” Hannah said. “The tabbouleh, kafta and Ras el Hanout spice are all Middle Eastern flavors that have inspired me on these plates. The quinoa tabbouleh was heavily herbed to bring that vibe to the plate.”
The spiciness was complemented by the cucumber salad to help cleanse the palate and by the marmalade to add a bit of sweetness.
Enthusiastic reception by the judges
Hannah’s work was reviewed by three floor judges, who graded him on overall professionalism and technique, and by three tasting judges.
“Austin represented Schoolcraft in the best light,” Chef Misiak said. “His performance was inspiring to watch. His work reflected the highest degree of culinary professionalism and he received many accolades from the judges and fellow competitors”
The only slight hiccup is Hannah intended to include pistachios with the appetizer. Because they were a required ingredient, he improvised and added them to the entrée.
Hannah said he was a bit concerned about the slight bobble, but the judges didn’t notice until he pointed it out to them.
“They didn’t say anything about the pistachios; they didn’t care because the flavors were there,” said Hannah, who started at Schoolcraft in 2018. “If you have good flavors, cook professionally, look good while you’re doing it and it tastes good and smells good, they don’t care.”
Hannah’s next objective is to become a Certified Sous Chef. He’s also eager to compete again, but this time as a professional.
“This was my fifth competition overall, but it’s my last as a student,” he said.