Berkeley eats up competition in Final Cut

Spectators at this year’s Final Cut competition, held in Commons, enjoyed food from a variety of vendors.
Spectators at this year’s Final Cut competition, held in Commons, enjoyed food from a variety of vendors. Photo by William Freedberg.

There is no such thing as having too many cooks in the kitchen, at least based on the success of Yale’s Final Cut competition.

Nearly 2,000 students crowded into Tuesday’s sixth annual Final Cut competition in Commons, an event that was co-organized by Yale Dining and the Yale College Council. Teams of two to three students from each of the 12 residential colleges battled in an “Iron Chef”-style format, in which they had an hour to prepare a an appetizer and main course dish using two secret ingredients. Food vendors ranging from Dannon to Honest Tea were also present at the event, offering samples of their products to spectators.

“Students express themselves through food,” said Director of Culinary Excellence for Yale Dining Ron DeSantis. “There are over a thousand people here. Food is the connection.”

The Berkeley College team, consisting of Emily Farr ’14, Isabelle Napier ’14 and Angela Ning ’14, won the grand prize of $1,000 with its signature Thai dish.

Students were judged on a variety of criteria including taste, presentation and creativity, according to Director of Supply Management and Sustainability Gerry Remer. The other four judges included University President Peter Salovey, Yale College Dean Mary Miller, Provost of the Culinary Institute of America Mark Erickson and Executive Director of Yale Dining Rafi Taherian.

In January, Yale Dining announced salmon and mushroom, the two secret ingredients, said Director of Residential Dining Cathy Van Dyke. She added that teams came in before the competition for a briefing and had been working with their respective dining hall managers for coaching and advice.

“The main goal of the event is to integrate students with Yale dining, and YCC facilitates this exchange,” said Silliman YCC Representative and Final Cut Project Organizer Jaime Halberstam ’16. She added that YCC was responsible for publicizing the event to students and photographing competitors, while Yale Dining handled the logistics of the competition.

Rich Adams, vice president of Sales for FreshPoint Connecticut — one of the event’s sponsors — said his company supported the event because it helps bring healthy food to the University and form a connection between dining halls and farms.

All overhead costs for the event, including the cost of ingredients, set-up and service even the personalized chef jackets — were covered by the corporate sponsors, Remer said. For a table, companies paid a minimum of $300, while the platinum sponsors Alaska Seafood and the Mushroom Council paid roughly $7,500.

Van Dyke said the layout of Commons this year was different from prior Final Cuts.  Rather than have student competitors and vendors in separate areas, student competitors were placed along one wall, while vendors lined the opposite side.

“This layout is much better because everyone wants to be by food and still look at the cooking,” Van Dyke said.

Still, Mary Nguyen ’14 said that although the food was good, the arrangement was less organized and had longer lines.

Competitors interviewed had a wide variety of reasons for participating in the competition.

Nicholas Friedlander ’17 of the Davenport College team said he looked forward to having fun with friends and engaging his passion for cooking. He enjoyed the competition even though it was more stressful than he expected, he added.

Zach Bell ’14 of Pierson College, one of the defending champions from last year’s Final Cut, said he hopes his team can regain the title in the future. He said the strategy for last year was to “fry a lot of things and use lots of fat.”

John Park ’14 said the competition was his team’s “last hurrah as seniors.” He added that since he has lived on campus, he has not had too many opportunities to cook over his four years.

Before announcing the final results, Salovey told crowds that “this was the strongest cooking that we have ever had.” He added that Berkeley’s team won first prize because the appetizers and main course complimented each other, leading to a great meal.

Miller echoed Salovey’s sentiments, adding that the level of competition was an overall high for the event.

Spectators interviewed praised the food and the exciting competition.

Alex Garland ’17, who attended the event to support his freshman counselor, said the best food he sampled was the croissants.

Stephen Hall ’14 said he was surprised with how many different vendors there were and how quickly some of the food was eaten. The sushi, he noted, was probably the most popular item at the event.

Branford College came in second place, and Trumbull College came in third.

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