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Santa Fe Community College culinary school hosts Chaîne des Rôtisseurs cooking competition

February 28, 2018

A popular theory holds that it was the cooking of food, and the increased bioavailability of that food as a result, that allowed Homo sapiens to grow their brains to the size required to acquire consciousness, read and write, and, ultimately, decipher the directions to their Instant Pots.

And as long as there have been cooks, there has been the venerated Chaîne des Rôtisseurs. Almost, anyway. The name Chaînes des Rôtisseurs means “chain of roasters” in French, and refers to the group’s medieval origins as the goose roasters’ guild (which later expanded to the roasting of other things — chickens, for example, and venison).

The current incarnation of the organization, known as La Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, was founded in 1950 and is a France-based culinary and gastronomic society dedicated to the elevation of cuisine into an art form. There are now Chaîne chapters all over the world, hosting dinners and events such as the Jeunes Chefs Competition, a competition for chefs under the age of 27 — one of which will be held this weekend in Santa Fe for the first time.

This weekend’s event is the regional competition (the Far West region that is, comprising Arizona, Southern California, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah) — stiff competition, considering that includes Las Vegas, Nev., and Los Angeles — and will be held at the Santa Fe Community College culinary school.

“We got the phone call probably about a year and a half ago asking if we were interested in hosting a young chef’s competition in town,” says chef Pat Mares, head of the culinary program at Santa Fe Community College and the competition’s de facto host. “We watched the regional competition in Salt Lake last March, and then we brought the Far West conseiller culinaire provincial to the school, and he said it was the perfect facility for this competition.”

“The culinary directorship was interested in bringing the event to the area, with all the possibilities that it provides food-wise and wine-wise to the competitors,” says Robert Phillips, conseiller for the Far West region. The experience of the area and the city with its long history has a lot of value.”

The competition is divided into Savory and Pastry (though the pastry competition has no age limit). Intended for young professional chefs, contestants must apply to the local chapter and get nominated, and then a rigorous vetting process decides who will make it into the final contest. There are several local entrants this year: In pastry, Michaela Deaton from Pranzo, David Flores of Bouche and Gabrielle Fretel of L’Olivier will be competing in the pastry category. Kyle Pacheco, a recent SFCC culinary graduate who runs the school’s East Wing Eatery and works at the Santa Fe School of Cooking, is the sole Santa Fe savory contestant.

Pacheco expects to have his hands full. “These competitors are the real deal, so it’s going to be something new.” he said.

“I’ve done a couple of competitions before. … But in [those] they tested us on skill and on certain cooking techniques. With this competition, it’s more of an open range. They don’t really have rules, just to create top-quality food.”

In both competitions, contestants are given a mystery basket of ingredients and a kitchen to themselves. Savory contestants get roughly four hours to prepare a full three-course menu — starter, entrée and dessert — for the nine judges (30 minutes to prepare the menu and 31/2 hours to cook). Pastry contestants must do an eight-layered cake with a theme, four identical portions of plated desserts with multiple components, four identical pastries, a dozen piped chocolate truffles and a dozen molded, filled chocolate bonbons.

“They were pretty stressed out; there was a lot of sweat going on,” says Mares of last year’s Utah competition. “[Three-and-a-half] hours to create three courses goes by quickly.”

During that time, no one may talk to them, help them or distract them. However, at some competitions (including this one, happily) a camera will be allowed to film the whole thing, so members of the public are free to come and go throughout the day or watch the chefs sweat via streaming video in the SFCC Jemez Room. The savory competition starts at 6 a.m. and ends roughly at 2:30 p.m., and each chef begins cooking at staggered times every 30 minutes. Winners go on to the national competition (held this year in Charleston, S.C.) and then, if they make it through, on to the world competition (held this year in Taiwan).

“The competition is a chance for our more statured members to give education and support young talented chefs, promoting the opening up and building of more restaurants,” Phillips says. “Maybe one of our members will have the financial backing to open restaurants with one of our young chefs.”

The competition is one of several events during the week — the organization also will hold its regional conference here at the same time, and there will be a Chaîne dinner Thursday prepared by local member chefs Cristian Pontiggia, Charles Dale, Mark Connell and Jen and Evan Doughty (dinner, at $100 per person, quickly sold out). But Saturday’s event is open to the public.

“If people are interested in coming [to the competition], I would suggest coming around noon,” Mares says. “The competition will be starting to wrap up.” Afterward, a ribbon-cutting ceremony will inaugurate the SFCC culinary school as Santa Fe’s only Chaîne facility, making the nation’s oldest capital the newest addition to the world’s oldest culinary association.

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