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Rutgers Chefs Face off in Annual Culinary Challenge

The cooking competition is to decide which of the chefs in Rutgers University's Dining Services department will represent the university at the National Association of College and University Food Services regional competition.

Dining hall food is often the butt of jokes at colleges and universities, but at Rutgers, the Dining Services department has set out to prove that they are staffed by talented, award-winning chefs.

On Jan. 11, in order to decide who will represent Rutgers at the annual regional competition of the National Association of College and University Food Services, a "Chopped"-style cooking competition was held in Brower Commons on the College Avenue campus.

Eight chefs were given a set amount of time to cook a dish, plate it and then clean up their station. The theme ingredient for the competition was Muscovy duck, and each competitor had to use the duck in a recipe of their choice that they have been testing since September. 

They were judged by a panel of three chefs, including Mark Ainsworth and Phil Crispo from the Culinary Institute of America and Ron Perlman, executive chef for Hilton.

"Instead of picking somebody arbitrarily...we have them compete against each other and the winner gets the honor to represent Rutgers," said Joseph Charette, Executive Director of Dining Services.

A new component of the challenge brought the dishes to the audience, as the competing chef's "proteges" prepared the dishes as their mentors were competing, said Sherylyn Tucker, of Rutgers' Dining Services department.

As the competing chefs presented each dish to the judges, tasting plates of each dish were presented to the audience.

At the end of the day, chef Brian Petersen was named the winner, serving a dish of pan seared duck breast over swiss chard, duck sausage and sweet potato medley with a port cherry jus.

Petersen will now represent Rutgers at the regional competition scheduled for March 17-20 at Millersville University in Pennsylvania, according to Dining Services.

The winner from that regional competition will face off against other regional winners at the national competition this summer, Charette said.

Dining Services chef Sebastian Nieto won the national competition in 2005, and Rutgers has had about seven winners at the regional level, he said.

"Rutgers has been very, very successful in the regional competition," he said.

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