Faculty member and Pastry Chef Kelsee Newman is one of eight chefs selected for the American Culinary Federation's Culinary Team USA, which will compete in the World Culinary Olympics.
Kelsee won her spot on the team in an intensive competition held July 9-12 in Orlando, Florida.
A new Culinary Team USA is selected every four years. As a team member, Kelsee will participate in three international competitions over the next three years, leading up to the World Culinary Olympics in 2020 in Erfurt, Germany.
The tryout was conducted in three phases. Step 1 was a written application that included a resume and photos of previous work. Kelsee was one of the 13 applicants notified in May that she would be moving on.
The next two phases were conducted in Orlando, allowing each chef to show off their culinary skills.
Step 2 was cold-food, which means food is displayed but not tasted. For pastry, this included building a centerpiece, plating two desserts, and displaying two different petit fours.
Some elements could be prepared in advance, but all assembly and finishing work had to be done in front of the judges in Orlando. Candidates had five hours to prepare their display, starting at 1:30 a.m. (after working through the night to get ready).
"The pastry judges made it very clear that the expectation was perfection," Kelsee said.
Kelsee said the day was filled with challenges, For effective display of cold food, including chocolate, the room temperature must be well controlled, and is usually below 70 degrees. However, the morning of the competition in hot and humid Florida, the air conditioning was off.
Nonetheless, all 13 candidates completed their tasks, and presented their work despite the extreme circumstances. The judges' critique, Kelsee said, "analyzed every detail and discussed every imperfection."
Step 3 started at 9 a.m. the next day. For this hot-food phase, Kelsee had to create two different desserts, six portions each, to be tasted. All work had to be done within a two-hour time period in front of the judges.
Again, there were many unforeseen challenges. Every chef had equipment issues of some kind, and for Kelsee, it was the freezer.
With 10 minutes left to plate her desserts, Kelsee discovered her freezer had reached refrigeration temperatures, making it nearly impossible to un-mold some pieces of each dessert.
The judges decided that no extra time would be given, so Kelsee had to make it work and plate the desserts anyway.
"The plates weren't exactly what I had hoped to present, but I finished without sacrificing any points for being late," Kelsee said.
Individual medals were presented at lunch the next day. No gold medals were awarded, but Kelsee was one of no more than four chefs who earned silver medals.
Photos at the bottom of this page display several of Kelsee's Olympic-caliber desserts.
Team USA was revealed at dinner that night, and all of the hard work of the past several months, and the efforts of the final week paid off, as Kelsee was announced as a member of Culinary Team USA.
Looking ahead, Kelsee said, "The work has only just begun." The team members were informed that others could join the team, and each member must continuously prove themselves.
"In each international competition, only six team members will compete for a medal, and the team managers and coaches will decide on those six a few months before each competition," Kelsee said. "The team must work together, but each individual must constantly work on their own to improve and be chosen to compete."
Kelsee expressed her gratitude for support from so many throughout the College, especially the Business Division and MCI. Others who provided key assistance included:
- Ed Smain and others fundraising helpers at Ryland Lakes Country Club.
- Betsy LaSorella and Glenda Stanton, who made the 15-hour drive to get Kelsee to Florida.
- Alan Neace, Greg Skibinski, and Brian Potter, who were on-site in Florida to help unload and organize the SUV full of equipment and product.
- Chefs Andy Chlebana, Joseph Decker, and Greg Skibinski, who provided coaching and guidance.
"The list of everyone who deserves thanks is very long," Kelsee said.
"I'm grateful to all of the College faculty, staff, and students who gave time to offer opinions, taste desserts, wash dishes, help with organization, and keep me fed-- all of your help and hard work is very much appreciated."