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Stepping Up to the Plate

Phillips puts the finishing touches on his entree, “Roasted Sesame Seed Lamb Tenderloin.”

Photo/Patrice Barber

USC Chef Robert Phillips has won the 2005 Golden Toque Culinary Challenge.

Phillips, Hospitality Services’ Executive Chef for Retail Operations, was awarded the top prize in the second annual competition at Parkside Restaurant’s Performance Caf�, where students, guests and others spent an afternoon watching fast-paced slicing, dicing and saut�ing.

Five chefs worked at individual cook stations under the watchful eyes of three judges. USC Executive Chef Mark Baida was on hand to give helpful tips and remind competitors of time constraints to keep them on mark.

Last year’s recipe called for Coho salmon � this year it was lamb.

Phillips, whose meal was highlighted by roasted sesame-seed lamb tenderloin with leeche nuts, said his aim was to create a Japanese-style lamb dish using a French technique.

“In competitions, we learn to work with foods that are different than our daily tasks in this business. It keeps us focused on what’s popular and on creating new items,” said Phillips, who will advance to the National Association of College & University Food Services’ regional competition at Stanford University. “I look forward to representing USC.”

If Phillips wins there, he’ll go on to the national competition in New Orleans.

Baida said the event was much more than a competition. “It’s about challenging yourself and expanding your culinary knowledge.”

The chefs who compete, he said, “take their professions seriously, and the ones who do put themselves up for the challenge should be proud of themselves.”

The other competitors were Franco De Dominicis (chef, Town & Gown; Robert Green (chef, International Residential College); and culinary specialists Keith Noriega (Town & Gown) and Brian McCarthy (International Residential College).

Green, who won last year, said he was pleased to pass on the Golden Toque. Noriega, who participated in his first competition, took second place, coming in one point behind Phillips.

“Being so close to finishing just makes me want to push myself harder to do even better next time,” Noriega said.

Third place went to De Dominicis for his pan-seared loin of lamb with porcini polenta, braised vegetables and vanilla bean-Port wine sauce.

Judging the competition this year were Chef Giovanni (Joe) Delrosario, director of culinary arts, Los Angeles Harbor College and associate professor of culinary arts, Los Angeles Trade Technical College; Chef Daniel Drumlake, chef instructor of culinary arts at The Art Institute of Los Angeles; and Chef Eric A. Kopelow, executive chef, Universal Studios Hollywood.

The competitors were judged on a 40-point scale that included organization, cooking skills and taste.

Each competitor had 30 minutes of prep time and an hour to prepare and plate their dish.

Artful presentation was also important.

Points were awarded for utilization and compatibility of ingredients, flavor of sauces and use of garnishes.

And points could be lost for noncompliance, such as the wrong portion size (too much protein, not enough vegetables), improper slicing, having a dull knife or unsafe food handling.

Baida will travel to the NACUFS Pacific Regional Conference with Phillips, who will hone his recipe until the process becomes “second nature.”

Stepping Up to the Plate

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