Team Kingra plates their dishes in the final moments of competition.

Faculty Cooking Throw Down dishes up camaraderie

After four hours in the kitchen, 17 faculty-chefs-for-a-day plated their sea bass entrees. Next door, judges waited with tasting evaluation sheets in hand, ready to consider presentation, taste and use of the secret ingredient. Dozens of students gathered to witness their professors in action.

The Faculty Cooking Throw Down, organized by Doug Miller, senior lecturer at the Cornell Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration at the SC Johnson College of Business, brought faculty and students together to celebrate the end of the academic year. Each team of four or five faculty members would prepare an entree featuring sea bass and the secret ingredient: a flavored butter, either saffron, truffle, ramp or Spekld butter, a product developed by Jonah Gershon ’24. They would plate their creations for the four judges, with tasting portions for 30 students.

Students sample their professors’ dishes at their Faculty Cooking Throw Down.

“The goal is for the faculty to get together in camaraderie and support each other,” Miller said. “It’s a fun opportunity for students to see their professors outside the classroom.”

The chefs got to work with the help of student teaching assistants. Throughout the day, the mood shifted from activity to moments of calm. Bacon rested on parchment, peeled mangoes glistened under the lights, frisée wilted in the pan and croquettes bobbed in the deep fryer. Mint, garlic and jalapenos succumbed to the knife. On large screens throughout the kitchen, the time counted down.

Brad Wellstead, M.S. ’96, senior lecturer at the Nolan School, hosted a similar competition 10 years ago and, this year, he led a red-toqued team that crafted a classic restaurant-style miso glazed sea bass topped with mango compote. He cheered with his team. “Why are we here?” he asked. “To win, Chef!” they shouted.

“This is a great way to bring faculty together and to show students that we love the school as much as they do,” said Mary MacAusland, professor of practice in accounting at the Nolan School and team leader.

Ravinder Kingra, lecturer at the Nolan School, said his team brought a wide range of interests and skills to the competition, from entrepreneurship, architecture and development to organizational behavior, negotiations, economics, and food and beverage operations. “All the teams seem to have a range of skill levels and comfort in the kitchen. But one thing we all have is a positive attitude – which is hugely important.”

Each team took different approaches. One team played up Mediterranean flavors. Another topped their fish with a delicate saffron espuma.

As the time wound down, faculty threw each other good natured barbs and offered friendly encouragement. Some described themselves as extremely competitive. Others downplayed any rivalry. 

Judges Andrew Karolyi, the Charles Field Knight Dean of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business; Tattiana Barelli ’24, managing director of HEC 99; Arthur Keith, general manager of the Statler Hotel; and Alex Susskind, professor and director of the Food and Beverage Institute, sampled the dishes.

“I was over-the-top impressed,” Karolyi said. He also asked each group about their team dynamics, emphasizing that working together is paramount.

After adding the scores and consulting with the judges, Miller announced the winning creation: a “hearty and homey” Hungarian-inspired sea bass dish served with spaetzle. The champions, Adam Walden, Melanie Hoftyzer, Lilly Jan, Wyatt Lee and Deirdre Snyder, all Nolan School faculty, congratulated each other with high fives.

Walden, the team’s leader, said that, after the pandemic, community-building opportunities like this one are especially important.

The event also marked a turning point for the teaching kitchens. “This is one of the last big events to happen in this space because this kitchen is undergoing a renovation starting this summer,” Miller said. “The space will come back totally different, full electric, full induction. This is a great way to send off this kitchen that first opened in 1989.”

Alison Fromme is a writer for the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

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