The Micronesian Chefs Association hosted chefs from around the island as they put their culinary skills to the test during the first day of the fifth annual Salon Culinaire Black Box Battle competition Tuesday at the Guam Community College Culinary Arts Kitchen.
The four-day series of competitions saw chefs ranging from the high school-level ProStart and GCC students to junior, professional and master chefs. The event offers them the opportunity to develop their craft while learning more about food preparation techniques, creative presentation, variety and time management.
With the exception of the ProStart competition, where high school students were introduced to their ingredients 10 days prior, the style of the Black Box Battle forces the chefs to think on their feet as the competitors have no knowledge of their ingredients until just before the competition begins.
Southern High School, Okkodo High School and John F. Kennedy High School's ProStart instructors put their teams of three up for the challenge. The students were expected to prepare an entrée for three in one hour, to include starch and protein elements, and vegetables. While some students had up to three years of culinary education, others had just one month or less.
"It really made me feel pressure," said Tyla Woodall, a ProStart student from JFK High School. "It's the real competition. It's not just your chef yelling at you, 'Get things done,' it's people walking around, really pressuring you."
Woodall said the competition is just her first step, and she plans on sticking with a culinary career.
"Being that this was our first time, it was pretty intense hearing all the other schools communicating with each other super loud. It kind of scared me a bit," said Jermaine Gamboa of Southern High School.
Since Gamboa was younger, he has always wanted to open a restaurant and believes he can go far in the kitchen. Wanting something new on the island, he hopes to travel around the world and infuse international cuisines with CHamoru fiesta food.
'Comfortable with cooking local'
Angelita Lujan, also from Southern High, said she hopes to improve her cooking skills and start a little business, then grow it for her mom, Pearl Lujan.
"I would like to serve local food. I'm more comfortable with cooking local," she added.
"I'm proud and happy that they're here. I just want the best for her," said Pearl Lujan. "I'm glad that she clicks good with her teammates because that's important in the kitchen. I give them a lot of props for joining the program. We need that at our school."
Two of the three students competing for Okkodo High already work as part-time pastry chefs at the Dusit Thani Guam Resort. All three students have competed before and won first place for the Guam ProStart competition. They also competed in South Carolina in April, placing second nationally.
The day proceeded with a kitchen filled with over a dozen busy junior chefs, who work as cooks and chefs at establishments around the island.
'An intense competition'
Junior chef Christopher Chien, who is a cook at the Lotte Hotel Guam, said the first heat of his category was fun but really intense. Despite the rush, Chien was confident his entrée was executed well. He said he plans to open a restaurant in the future, with a focus on Mexican or Central American cuisine.
"There's some wiggle room, but for sure it is an intense competition, not knowing what you have before the competition starts."
The Black Box Battle threw a couple of curve balls at the juniors. They had not one, but two proteins to prepare with their starch and greens.
"We had this one bone in the lamb that's not supposed to be there," said Dominik Pablo, a cook at Niu Fusion and competitor in the junior chef segment. "Usually it's removed, but they put it on, so it was tough to separate it."
Pablo said his goal is to become a fine-dining chef. He's been cooking for about seven years and said his specialty is beef.
Battle concludes tomorrow
The competitions will continue through tomorrow and include an open pastry chef competition.
Today and tomorrow, Salon Culinaire will also hold the World Association of Chefs' Societies World Chefs Regional Finals for the Pacific region, showcasing global chef and young chef competitions, along with a global pastry competition.
Winners of the competitions will be honored at an awards banquet at the Westin Resort Guam tomorrow night, and the winners of the regional finals will head to the world finals in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for the Biennial World Chefs Congress and Convention.