Sweets & scholarships presented at the 2017 Walnut Hill College Chocolate Competition

The 21st annual Walnut Hill College Chocolate Competition took place on Saturday, April 29, with 16 aspiring bakers vying for the chance to win scholarships to attend the hospitality college. The talented competitors were all juniors and seniors hailing from high schools in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, and Delaware.

For many of the students, the competition began before they stepped foot in the kitchens of the University City campus. Earning a spot in Saturday’s bake-off required them to go head to head against peers at their own high school, showcasing their pastry prowess and bringing them one step closer to a coveted scholarship award. Once accepted into the Walnut Hill College competition, all of the students were tasked with baking a chocolate cake at home prior to the big event. What set each cake apart was the extraordinary design work that each student put into their confection on competition day. Whether they chose to make a simple but elegant cake or go all out with a multi-colored, multi-layered masterpiece, the students were encouraged to be creative.

Students competed in either the high school division or the vocational-technical division (for those who attend schools with specialized training in baking and pastry arts). In the end, six exceptional students won scholarships to attend Walnut Hill College. From the high school division, 1st place was awarded to Victoria B. from Hamilton, NJ, representing Hamilton High School West in Trenton, NJ; 2nd place to Jordyn F. from Yeadon, PA, representing Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School in Midland, PA; and 3rd place to Madison H. from Honey Brook, PA, representing Twin Valley High School in Elverson, PA. And in the vo-tech division, 1st place went to Danielle S. from Willingboro, NJ, representing Burlington County Institute of Technology in Westampton, NJ; 2nd place to Jacob W. from Elkton, MD, representing Rising Sun High School in North East, MD; and 3rd place to Noah B. from Levittown, PA, representing Bucks County Technical High School in Fairless Hills, PA. Both divisions awarded scholarships for $6,000 (1st place), $3,000 (2nd place), and $1,800 (3rd place). The high school of the 1st place winner in both divisions also won $500 for its Family and Consumer Science Department or Culinary Arts Program.

Judging this year’s Chocolate Competition were Sam Nahhas, Executive Chef at Normandy Farm and the American Culinary Federation’s 2015 Pastry Chef of the Year, Angela Sticco, Walnut Hill College alumna and Head Chocolatier at John and Kira’s, Chris Berardi, Director of Culinary Compliance at Nutrition Management Services Company, and Gunther Heiland, Certified Master Pastry Chef and Fellow of the American Academy of Chefs. Additionally, guests of the competitors were treated to a special cooking demonstration by Christina Pirello, a beloved chef instructor at Walnut Hill College as well as a TV host and cookbook author.

Check out our full photo album of the competition, and visit our High Schoolers page to learn more about our competitions, scholarships, and summer programs for high school students.


Bon Voyage: Traveling the Globe Without Leaving the City

By: Stephen App

Pop-ups, both in the form of restaurants and beer gardens, have become kind of a thing in Philadelphia in recent summers. But Walnut Hill College isn’t waiting for bright sunshine and hotter temperatures to launch their own pop-up restaurant. Instead, their latest pop-up restaurant, Bon Voyage, is already open for business. And after having dinner there, I can assure you, you shouldn’t wait for the summer to experience one of Philadelphia’s most underrated dining spots.

Pop-up restaurants are nothing new to Walnut Hill College, as they tend to host one iteration per academic term. But the Bon Voyage concept is unique to this year’s graduating students in the Culinary Arts, Pastry Arts, Restaurant Management, and Hotel Management bachelor programs, who pitched the concept of the restaurant based on the study abroad locations WHC students participate in.

Krissy Alfes and Connor Bodnar, 2 of the 17 graduating students who created Bon Voyage, say they hoped to capture the highlights of their student experience. Students may start their culinary journey in Philadelphia, they say, but during their time at Walnut Hill College, students in the Management associate programs travel to Florida and the Bahamas, while Pastry Arts and Culinary Arts associate students travel to France. Prior to graduating this summer, students in all bachelor’s degree programs will travel to England.

Bon Voyage Student Leaders

Alfes says she feels an immense sense of pride in the concept, as it allows students from every program the opportunity to share their stories and inspiration through food. “We all went to the same places, but we all had different experiences,” adds Bodnar.

In reality, it’s that endearing concept, and the manner in which Bodnar, Alfes, and their peers execute it, that makes this pop-up restaurant worth visiting before it closes on April 15. Because while the food is fantastic, that alone isn’t enough to separate Bon Voyage from the multitude of exquisite restaurants in this underrated culinary city.

Instead, where Bon Voyage excels is in the service, the conversation, and the way in which patrons are transported to sandy beaches and Parisian side streets with each course. That’s especially refreshing at a time when dining out often dissolves into a group of individuals silently peeking at their phones under the table.

The students of Bon Voyage make it their mission throughout the dining experience to take diners on a vicarious journey without having to leave the table. There’s the fried conch appetizer, for example, served with a mango salsa and avocado crema, that Bodnar selected from a humorous memory of his first day in the Bahamas, when he and a few friends were led by a local through winding streets that culminated in Bodnar eating fresh conch right out of the water.

Duck Confit Salad Bon Voyage

Or there’s the duck confit, served on a bed of kale with a citrus vinaigrette dressing. Alfes chose the dish because of a particularly memorable day in Paris, when she and a friend found themselves caught in between a taxi riot and a Palestinian-Israeli conflict near the Arc De Triomphe. In an effort to distance themselves from the rapidly converging crowds, they stumbled across a small side street and a little café. Alfes says when they decided to sit down and order a late lunch, she decided she “just wanted a salad.”

Instead, Alfes says, “when I got the salad presented in front of me, it’s just this mound of salad greens and wrapped right around the edge of the plate there was this beautiful cured duck breast and it had this delicious citrus vinaigrette that the greens were tossed in. I was sitting there with this little espresso right next to me and my friend and I are just sitting there going through my Nikon, just looking at all of these riot pictures, all of the things that we were looking at all day.”

Her voice trails off at this point in the story, and after a small pause, she breaks into a beaming smile. “I want to go back,” she says. It’s a story that Alfes likely gets to tell each night, but as she recalls that late afternoon impromptu lunch, it’s easy to feel as though you are the first person she has shared an intimate memory with.

And it’s not just the fried conch or duck confit that tells a story. Every item on the menu – including appetizers, entrées, and desserts – is inspired by a student’s study abroad experience, while each cocktail features a popular spirit or beer from the region that inspired it.

A Chef Prepares a Bon Voyage Dish

In the end, says Bodnar, the goal of Bon Voyage is to help patrons, “understand the three years we spent at this school. It’s not all about the classroom; it’s about the experiences that we encountered.”

Adds Alfes, “we want you to have these dishes in front of you and see them from someone else’s perspective. I want someone to look at the duck salad the same way I can instead of just thinking, “this is a good duck salad.”

So while you wait for Philly’s warmer weather and pop-up beer gardens, consider a vicarious journey to Paris, Florida, or the Bahamas. Bon Voyage is currently accepting reservations from 5:30-10:00 pm, Tuesday through Saturday, until April 15. Reservations can be made by phone at 215-222-4200 or on OpenTable.


Walnut Hill College Hosts Philly Florida Keys Cook-Off

At Walnut Hill College, we know the recipe for success, and the Florida Keys and Key West “Philadelphia Food Influencer Cook-Off” had all the ingredients of a fantastic event. Bringing together an eclectic mix of hosts, contestants, cocktails, and food, the Florida Keys and Key West-inspired event proved to be a memorable night of culture, food, and fun.

The Event

The Florida Keys and Key West cook-off competition was a challenge set by Key West native Chef Bobby Stoky and aimed at highlighting the lively culinary scene in the Keys. As part of the challenge, 24 contestants chosen for their status as local food and travel influencers and writers were asked to prepare two traditional Florida Keys dishes: key lime pie and red snapper. Winners were chosen based on the taste, presentation, and creativity of their dishes.

The Hosts

Chef Bobby Stoky and well-known Philadelphian Pat Croce both have deep roots in Key West. With Pat’s legendary run as President and owner of the 76ers, our discussion about legends might have been about Allen Iverson but instead was focused on pirates, Sir Francis Drake, and Pat’s search to locate the legend’s final resting place.

Both Stoky and Croce run numerous restaurants in Key West and feel blessed to be based in such a beautiful part of the world. Chef Bobby raved about the fresh fish in the Keys, even noting that some restaurants have a BYOF (bring your own fish) policy! Seeking something a little different than fish on his trip to Philadelphia, Chef Bobby’s passion for food led him to try his first cheesesteak from Ishkabibbles, and he even said he was also planning on visiting Jim’s on South Street before heading back to the Keys. What does a chef like Bobby Stoky get on his cheesesteak? “Provolone, onions, and mushrooms,” he said.

The Students

Students from Walnut Hill College were in attendance at the event to lend a helping hand and emotional support to the eager and excited contestants. Speaking with Tina Danner, Kobie Jones, and Jamira Brice, who are students at Walnut Hill College, they said they enjoyed how the cook-off had brought everyone together. “It’s a positive creative process, and although there can be some pressure in the kitchen, there is also a lot of laughter. It’s great for community building,” said Kobie.

Their technical skills were also on display with Kevin Ellul, who is a Student Leader at the school, leading the charge by using a blowtorch to give the meringue its finishing touches.

The Contestants

Food critics, writers, bloggers, news anchors, food influencers, and radio hosts made up the eclectic group of chefs looking to win the prize of a trip to the Florida Keys. Alex Holley from Fox 29 said that the food had put her “in the mood” to head down to the Keys. Known as the “Dougie Queen on her morning show, we’re sure her dancing skills would not be out of place in Key West.

Nicole Michalik, morning host on Mix 106, created what she described as the “YOLO” version of the red snapper dish, which, by the way, tasted great. Although she played down her cooking experience, she did have one of the best acronyms for breading fish. “I just think of FEBruary: flour, eggs, then breadcrumbs!” she said.

Denine Gorniak, a graduate of Walnut Hill College who is known for her blog called The Bicycle Chef, was confident about her red snapper dish. And for her, baking the key lime pie was “all about the science.” She said she had enjoyed the experience of preparing the food in a professional kitchen.

Kass Dahlquist, who started Philly Food Girl three years ago to share her love of food, said the students were fabulous and very supportive. Asked about what makes a great food writer, she said, “just be authentic and people will respond.”

The School: Walnut Hill College

For many attending the cook-off, this was the first time they had been to Walnut Hill College. The contestants were amazed by the kitchens and the facilities. For some, this was the first time they had the chance to cook in a professional kitchen. For the guests, the calypso music, cocktails, and great food meant that the backdrop was the star of the show.

The Florida Keys and Key West

Transporting the guests and contestants to the Florida Keys and Key West was the sauce that brought all the ingredients together. A big thank you to the Florida Keys and Key West Tourist Board for hosting this memorable event at the College. We look forward to creating more memorable nights together!


4 Cocktails Inspired by the Florida Keys

Providing a taste of paradise to the City of Brotherly Love, the Florida Keys & Key West Cook-Off offered 24 contestants the chance to face-off for a trip to the beautiful Florida Keys. Hosted here at Walnut Hill College, this unique event brought together some of Philadelphia’s top food influencers, chefs, and bartenders. Amidst the food and frenzy, four of Philadelphia’s hardest working and most talented bartenders were invited to stir and shake up their best Keys-inspired cocktail. Here’s what they came up with.

Breeze Way

Nickolas Brozek – Dim Sum House

This twist on an island favorite features gin, subtle hints of vanilla, and key lime shrub, topped with egg white.

Ingredients:
Gin
Key Lime Sake Shrub
Vanilla Meringue

The Black Pearl

Seamus Banning – Vesper

Eucalyptus, bitter citrus, and spice affably dance with molasses in this dark rum cocktail. However, its color remains as mysterious as The Black Pearl.

Ingredients:
Dark Rum
Fernet Branca
Grapefruit Juice
Lime Juice
Vanilla Spice Syrup
Activated Charcoal

Papa’s Punch

Michelle Curtis – Whetstone Tavern

In honor of Hemmingway’s fishing nickname, this refreshing rum punch features flavors of basil, strawberry, and pineapple. With these flavors, Papa’s Punch is practically begging to be sipped after a hot day in the Florida sun.

Ingredients:
Rum
Strawberry Basil Syrup
Pineapple
White Cacao
Lime
Bitters

Mother of the Dragon

Kimberly Shurig – Fine Palate

With a name like Mother of the Dragon, you know this one is going to be powerful. It features tequila and dragon fruit with a hint of habanero-infused simple syrup over fresh ice, garnished with a lime peel, dragon fruit skin, and cilantro.

Ingredients:
Tequila
Dragon Fruit
Habanero-Infused Simple Syrup

Seamus Banning from Vesper Club won out for best cocktail of the night and will receive a two-night stay at the Margaritaville Resort & Marina in Key West. Which cocktail would you sip on the beach?


Lessons in Foodservice & Hospitality at HX: The Hotel Experience Show

By Nicolas McLellan, B.S. in Culinary Arts Candidate, Graduating July 2017

Ah, New York City. The only place where you can spend $500 on a tasting menu with a wine pairing and then eat a $2, albeit delicious, food cart hot dog. A culinarian €™s wonderland! Given New York €™s reputation for setting food and hospitality trends, it would only make sense that an event for foodservice professionals, students, and various food technology companies would occur, right?

Correct! Formerly the International Hotel, Motel and Restaurant Show, HX: The Hotel Experience aims to provide trends, new equipment, and plenty of networking spread over three days, usually in November. (Mark your calendars for 2017!) To provide some background as to why I attended the Expo, I €™ll have to give a shout out to Ms. Brooks and the Hospitality Engagement Club, who kindly asked me to represent Walnut Hill College at this year €™s HX. Of course I jumped at the chance, booked a ticket for Amtrak, and was good to go. So let €™s fast forward to Sunday, November 13th.

Armed with a smile on my face, coffee in hand, and WHC pin on my suit jacket, I was beyond ready to absorb information, fill my wallet with business cards and my belly with free samples. After a quick 10-minute walk from Penn Station, I entered the Javits Center, got my name tag and entered HX. Being a culinary student, I €™m drawn to shiny equipment and anything that can shoot out flames like a jet engine, so it only made sense to check out the Hestan Commercial booth, which consisted of a beautiful oven suite boasting four open-burner stovetops, a French top (a solid cast iron stovetop that houses the flame beneath the metal), and a plancha (for searing proteins).

hx-stovetop

After picking my jaw up off the floor due to the equipment €™s finesse and beauty, I discussed various customizations and some local clients with a Hestan company representative. I continued to marvel at other stoves, ovens, and even a soft serve machine, which I was a huge fan of due to the free samples I received!

hx-ovenhx-ice-cream

Another great aspect of HX were the numerous conferences held, one of which covered the idea of commercial kitchen designs/makeovers. What I found most interesting was a statement by one of the gentlemen on stage, who tied in the almost too famous quote, €œIf you can €™t stand the heat €¦ € you know the rest. He stated that, in a study done by a hospitality research company, if the temperature goes above 10 degrees an employee €™s comfort level, their productivity level decreases by 30%. Food for thought, and an interesting mention! Other topics discussed were the right questions to ask regarding kitchen design, such as kitchen design flaws (hooking up a gas line to a steamer instead of a water line–yikes!) and keeping an appropriate and steady budget. These are all things that I found important, especially if someone wants to open their own operation.

My final piece, a sweet ending if you will, involves the topic of something we all know and love. Male or female, short or tall, Democrat or Republican, everyone loves chocolate! The story takes a nice turn at this point, caused by my fellow Bachelor student Kenan Rebah meeting me for this portion of my day! The last presentation, hosted by the former pastry chef of the world renowned Le Bernardin, Chef Michael Laiskonis, was hands down my favorite. Now the Creative Director for the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in NYC, his main focus is the Bean to Bar process of chocolate making. In novice terms, this means that Chef Laiskonis receives the dried cocoa beans in his lab, roasts them, and then separates the cocoa nibs from the shell during a process called €œwinnowing. € He then grinds, presses the cocoa butter, and refines the cocoa liquor, at which point he adds sugar and other additives, such as milk powder.

After the refining process, conching is done, and this step improves texture and promotes moisture reduction. Science (and my own experience) proves that water and chocolate do not mix, so you get the idea! One last note to touch upon is that Chef Laiskonis has been experimenting with aging the chocolate bars he makes. It may seem odd at first, but when put in the same rich category as wine and cheese, the decadent sound of €œAged Dark Chocolate € sounds great. We were given samples of chocolate from June, and it was amazing! I noted flavors of slight smoke and a lot of citrus. After indulging in a bar or two, Kenan and I spoke with Chef Laiskonis about his role at ICE and discussed checking out his chocolate lab, and we even got a picture!

hx-nickhx-kenan

In a nutshell, HX is extremely valuable to young hospitality students because of ALL the exposure achieved. From the connections made in the undisputed restaurant capital of the world (Philadelphia is becoming close competition!), to the industry leading professionals discussing current and future trends, to observing just how vast our field really is, I truly enjoyed my experience and encourage my fellow students at Walnut Hill College to check it out in the future!


Student Spotlight: Emily Stricko talks White Out Waste Event

On Monday May 16th, several student leaders presented a White Out Waste event, encouraging guests to bring their own food and dress in all white. Student Leader Emily Stricko was generous enough to share her experience contributing with the event. She notes, €œOur inspiration was from a real event, called the Dîner en Blanc; it’s  the French tradition of a large, outdoor picnic with guests dressed only in white, upheld in dozens of cities today €. Emily explains that sustainability was focused upon when brainstorming for ideas. WHC emphasizes sustainability as an ideal to constantly strive towards; a fun, fashionable, creative and delicious event €œwith the underlying understanding to recycle and leave no trash behind € fits in well with the college €™s values.

As with any WHC event, the White Out Waste dinner required much collaboration and attention to detail. Emily explains, €œwe needed to convey the elegance and level of effort requested by the planning committee to influence potential sign-ups in understanding our message €.  Guests wore all white and dined with eco-minded service ware. Guests brought their own food and sense of style to the picnic-esque event, a sparkling cider toast kicked off the evening of sustainability-focused conversation. Looking to the future is important for the sustainably-minded Student Leaders and the entire WHC Community. Minimizing waste was the central goal of this event and the Student Leaders wish to continue this focus in day to day life at WHC and into the future with more events and collaboration. Emily looks forward to collaborating the future student leaders on similar events, €œhappily, the initiatives drawn up by the existing generation of Student Leaders are meant to give structure and inspiration to our peers and even faculty. From eliminating paper printouts and installing multiple blue recycling bins throughout campus, we ask that everybody remember being mindful of waste, electricity, and making €˜green €™ choices! €.  The White Out Waste event highlighted that eliminating waste and focusing on other sustainable practice require looking into the past and embracing new methodologies as we move forward as individuals and as a college community towards the constant goal of thinking and acting €˜green €™. Check out all everything else Student Leaders are up to here!


Dishing out scholarships at the 2016 Walnut Hill College Culinary Competition!

On Saturday, May 7, The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College hosted yet another of its annual scholarship events for high school students, this time the 2016 Culinary Competition. We were excited to have 20 students hailing from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware come to our Philadelphia campus to show us their cooking chops for the chance to earn partial tuition!

The Culinary Competition challenged students to compose a chicken dish with an array of ingredients that they didn €™t know about until they arrived in our kitchens. This surprise element to the competition forced the students to think on their feet and really brought out the creative cooking ideas we love to see! In fact, the judges were so impressed that they awarded top prizes in the high school and vo-tech divisions to seven students instead of the usual six, with two students tying for third in the vo-tech division! All of the students walked away with a $500 scholarship to attend Walnut Hill College, so the day was an overall success for everyone who participated.

We’d like to thank all of the students for competing as well as their instructors and parents for  supporting them during contest prep. Of course, a huge thank you goes to our esteemed chef judges–some of whom are alumni–Marcie Turney, Evan Turney, Rocco Cima, and Todd Braley!

Please enjoy the photo album from our 2016 Culinary Competition.


Sweets & Scholarships at our 20th Annual Chocolate Competition

On Saturday, April 30, The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College hosted its 20th annual Chocolate Competition for high school juniors and seniors. This event showcased the talents of rising pastry professionals and gave the young competitors the chance to earn scholarships to attend the college in the program of their choice. Over 20 students from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland descended onto our Philadelphia campus to vie for the top prize in their respective division: high school or vocational-technical school.

For the competition, all of the students had to bake a chocolate cake prior to arriving on campus. What set each cake apart was the extraordinary design work that each student put into his or her confection on competition day! Whether they chose to make a simple but elegant cake or go all out with a multi-colored, multi-layered masterpiece, the students were encouraged to be creative. Judging the students €™ cakes were Kathy Gold, Executive Chef and Owner of In the Kitchen Cooking School, Nancy Miller, Executive Chef at Villanova University €™s Donahue Court, and Jill McClennan, Food Technologist at Campbell Soup Company.

All of the competitors went home with a $500 scholarship to attend our school, while the top three winners in both divisions also won scholarships in the amount of $6000, $3000, and $1800. Congratulations to all of the students who competed!

View the photo album from our  2016 Chocolate Competition.


For a Limited Time Only, Timeless: A Gastronomic Tour Through the Ages

Timeless: A Gastronomic Tour Through the Ages  is the newest pop-up restaurant at Walnut Hill College.   Twenty one Bachelor students have planned and executed every aspect of this limited time experience available March 15th– April 16th 2016. The website with menu and access to reservations can be found here. The menu takes guests from the 16th century through to the 21st with three courses: appetizer, entrée and dessert; the menu is paired with a lovely, inventive cocktail menu. Options are friendly to both meat-eaters and vegetarians in all courses!

Guests are greeted and seated, then introduced to a confident and professional management student who provides a brief overview of the project. This pop-up does not hold back on delicious bread or beautiful presentation; the menu is especially aesthetically pleasing! Every plate looks strategically executed and presents a piece of history (and a piece of something delicious).  Each entrée option is inventive and inspired by the 18th and 19th centuries; one option is a unique and delicious polenta vegetable lasagna. The sweetest and final course boasts modern-time influenced dessert options. For a truly unexpected and lovely taste experience try The Tea Party, you €™ll want to order several to take home for a midnight snack. Timeless is a treat for every palate; the bachelor students strategically planned every aspect of the experience. Don €™t miss out on this limited time pop up!


Rolling out the Red Carpet: Freshman Showcase

Friday, March 18  marked WHC €™s Freshman Showcase, during which our campus was turned into a wonderland of food, drink, and decor. Upon arrival, guests received a “passport” directing them through different cultural experiences for the palate. The red carpet was rolled out and guests were invited to walk through the restaurants, kitchens, and classrooms to sample sweet and savory morsels and assorted beverages–including wine for those of age! Cheers to our wonderful freshmen and all of the faculty and staff who helped to make Friday night so delectable!

Freshman Showcase was a truly delightful display of how hard each student has worked so far in their career at Walnut Hill College. Culinary, pastry, and management skills were crucial in pulling off such a large and amazing event. Guests were treated to delicious seafood, some Italian staples, a chocolate fountain, and many other themed savory treats! Every aspect of our newest students’ knowledge was put to the test for their family, friends, and even future colleagues, as some incoming students attended to see what they have to look forward to later this year. The freshmen have already expanded their knowledge in their short time at the college, and Friday €™s event certainly reinforced all of their hard work and proved they have the passion to showcase their technical skills and creative expertise. Families and friends were undoubtedly impressed with the visual presentation and, of course, all of the food upon which they feasted! Hats off to the freshman class at Walnut Hill College. Keep up the beautiful and tasty work!

Here’s our Freshman Showcase photo album!