Taste of victory for culinary connoisseurs

By Victor Allison/reporter

Instructors with a lot to prove earned validation at a cooking competition in Fort Worth.

Chef Alison Hodges and Nathan Price were a part of a quartet of instructors from the SE culinary arts program who took the Ben E. Keith hot foods cook-off in Fort Worth by storm. All four took individual honors for their creations.

The challenge for the 10 selected chefs this year was making a tasty and aesthetically pleasing dish using quail as the main ingredient. Both Hodges and Price were awarded medals for their dishes, meeting the bronze standard.

They said they enjoy the medals, however the biggest reward is that their victories against some of the top chefs in the state sends a message to doubters and themselves, they said.

For Price, it’s a vital piece to the career puzzle he’s been trying to figure out. He spent 15 years working in commercial carpet cleaning before making the jump to culinary arts. So, holding his own in competitions helps him settle questions about whether he’s found his calling.

“I wanted to prove to myself that this was something I was meant to do,” he said.

The competition, Price said, gives him a chance to do that because competitions put chefs through the ringer.

For example, program coordinator Katrina Warner, who placed third overall in the competition, said there’s a component of the competition where the chefs are subjected to relentless critique.

“Usually, the verbal feedback makes you feel like you did a terrible job,” Warner said. “From what they told me about my plate, I was thinking I’ll be lucky if I even get a medal. They tore it apart.”

Adjunct pastry instructor William Hodges, who was awarded a silver medal at the competition, agreed.

“As you compete, everything you do incorrectly — not quite right, the flavor profile’s not just right — they knock you down just a little bit,” he said.

However, Price sees it all as part of building tough skin.

And despite the attempts to knock competitors down a peg, he says his medal is validation enough.

“Holding that medal in my hand, all the work, all the practice, everything that I ever wanted to

do, I look at that and say ‘you can’t take that from me,” he said.

Chef Alison Hodges says she wants respect.

During the course of her nearly 30-year career, she says she’s been put in a couple of boxes as a chef.

So, performing well in a hot foods competition gave her a feeling of vindication.

“So, that was a part of my driving force to do this,” she said. “I wanted to prove to [students] and also some of my peers out there in the industry that — as a pastry chef — I am still a chef, and I should be considered as one.”

However, she said she also gets put in a box as a chef because she’s a woman.

“The fact that Katrina and I are females in an industry of men, people are like ‘Oh my god, you got third place overall. Isn’t that nice for a woman?’” she said.

She was one of only two women in the competition this year, including her program coordinator Katrina Warner.

But taking home a bronze medal while her other female colleague took home a silver in a competition, to her, helps settle age-old questions in the industry about whether women can compete on a high level.

“I think my peers look at me differently now,” she said.