Westmoreland County Community College culinary team devours competition
A team of five students from Westmoreland County Community College won the championship at the Baron H. Galand Culinary Knowledge Bowl, a "Jeopardy-"style competition pitting them against nine other teams from five states.
The team went undefeated in four rounds of play at the competition, part of the American Culinary Federation Northeast Regional Conference held last weekend in Hershey.
As the championship team, Carol Baier of Irwin, Ellen Cervone of Belle Vernon, Rebecca Hawk of Youngwood, Allison Yeagley of Connellsville and Dianne Palmieri of Greensburg will compete at the national conference in Anaheim, Calif., in August.
Baier, who was the team's captain, said the weekend was "like a whirlwind."
"Every round of play we won, and the more confident we became, the more excited we became," she said.
Each team competing in the double-elimination tournament had to answer questions in five categories: baking, cooking, sanitation, nutrition and Escoffier's techniques, an innovator of French cuisine.
The competition is named after Baron Galand, a Dunbar native and past president of the American Culinary Federation.
Baier and her teammates used culinary textbooks to study and practiced with a team from Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh, which earned a silver medal but did not play against the WCCC during the competition.
Cindy Komarinski, one of the team's advisers and an associate professor of culinary arts/hospitality, said even though the team was undefeated going into the final round, they weren't sure the students would win the championship.
"Until they got in the last game and got ahead by a very large point spread, we weren't sure," she said, adding that the advisers sat in the audience trying to tally the scores with the points on the board.
In the championship game, the WCCC team bested one from the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vt., with a score of 290-100. The Vermont team was the only one that challenged the WCCC team, leaving a close game in an earlier round 160-140 in favor of WCCC.
Baier said the team strategically chose questions with larger point values first to ensure their opponents would not be able to catch their score near the end of the game.
"We were so excited when we hit the mark for the gold medal and beating the other team," she said. "We just did it."
WCCC President Dan Obara said the winning team reaffirms what he knew to be one of the best culinary programs in the country.
"When you add the affordability on to the quality of that program, it's just a win-win situation for students who want to pursue a career in that area," he said.