Ovens were blazing and pizza dough was flying last Friday as four Campus Kitchens competed in the third annual high school cook off sponsored by Marriott Inc. Rather than a traditional chili cook off, this year’s competition was a new experience: each team had to create a unique meal pizza, salad and dessert pizza to be tasted by the panel of expert judges.
Students from the Campus Kitchen at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, the Campus Kitchen at Gonzaga College High School, Archbishop Williams High School (which volunteers with the Campus Kitchen at the University of Massachusetts Boston) and Atlantic City High School (which helps to staff the Campus Kitchen at Atlantic City) gathered at Marriott’s test kitchens in Bethesda, Md. on Friday morning ready to cook. They first learned basic pizza dough techniques from Chef Doug Davis, senior director of global food safety for Marriott, Inc. After the demonstration, each team moved on to their own workstations where they were joined by a Marriott mentor chef. DC restaurateur Chef Spike Mendelsohn supplied each team with pizza dough, but they were on their own to create the rest of their pies.
Nearly three hours of slicing, blending, kneading, tossing, topping and baking later, each team presented their creations to a panel of four judges, who tasted the meals blindly. The panel was composed of Chef Robert Wiedmaier, owner of RW Restaurant Group; Andy Finke, chief operating officer at DC Central Kitchen; Chef Brad Nelson, vice president and corporate chef at Marriott; and Laura Belazis, associate director of The Campus Kitchens Project.
The teams competed for three honors: best pizza, best dessert pizza and best meal overall. In the end, all four teams served meals that the judges agreed they would pay to eat in a restaurant. The best pizza award was given to Archbishop Williams High School, who created a pesto and pepper vegetarian pizza. Two schools tied for best dessert pizza: Gonzaga College High School, who created a strawberry and blueberry pizza with pomegranate molasses and a cinnamon cream cheese base, and Atlantic City High School, who eschewed a dough base in favor of an apple crisp-like “pizza” dessert (instead, they baked small twists out of the dough to use as a garnish). Finally, the judges awarded best overall meal to St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, who created a pesto pizza with chicken sausage, a glazed fruit pizza for dessert and a kale and orange salad.
The event not only served as a friendly competition – it was a Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service project as well. In addition to the food prepared for judging, each team baked five additional meal pizzas and put together three trays of salad to be donated to Bethesda Care, enough pizza to serve as many as 75 people.
Special thanks to Chuck James, coordinator of the Campus Kitchen at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School for coordinating the event, and to Marriott Inc. for hosting and providing a memorable experience for our students.