Chef Scott Steiner is a very competitive chef.
The Niagara Culinary Institute assistant professor loves cooking contests and enjoys teaching his students how to win them.
Steiner’s last contest was particularly challenging. He and the other competitors were required to do all their cooking on electric burners, because no open flames were allowed in the convention hall where the competition was held.
Creating a gourmet dish on two electric burners in front of a large audience is only doable if you are a master chef and Steiner proved his mastery this summer when he won the title of National Chef Educator of the Year award at the American Culinary Federation Conference in Orlando.
His presentation included a recipe for corn mousse which he re-formed into pudding-like corn kernel segments by using a recipe and mold developed by his former student, Corey Siegel.
Recently, in his office at the Culinary Institute, where he is also the culinary arts program coordinator, Steiner shared some thoughts about the win. Here is an excerpt of his conversation with Delish Editor Michele DeLuca.
Q: What did you make at the competition?
A: The whole logistics behind the competition was you have to teach a lesson and you also have to produce a full entry plate or a full dessert plate. And, because it was on the trade show floor, I only got two induction burners to cook on. They work with magnetic electricity. There was no open flame allowed.
Q: Seriously, no flames?
A: I know. You had to use induction heat. Me being a competitor, I know not to trust anybody so I transported my own induction burner down there and I practiced on it because I wasn’t going to use theirs. If I’m being timed, I need to know what settings, how hot and how long it’s going to take to cook something. My rule of competition is you practice it ten times before you compete.
Q: What was your secret weapon?
A: I’m a teacher, I’ve been a teacher for a long time. To do something like this, people get confused and they turn it into just a straight up demonstration. But a teacher should be teaching something and should be checking for understanding.
Q: What did you teach?
A: I choose a lesson on carrageenan. I chose that on purpose. Caragenan is molecular gastronomy. It is a seaweed extract. It comes from red seaweed and has thickening properties. It’s vegan and vegetarian.
Q: Oh chef, that does not sound delicious.
A. It’s not delicious. But I have to tell you what it is. It’s a power and it comes out of seaweed after they dry it. It has jelling properties just like jello, but its vegan. It’s in coffee creamer, it’s in chocolate milk, almond milk, soy milk. It’s a common food additive people don’t really know about.
Q: You used a recipe for corn mousse developed by your former student, which you created in a silicone mold he developed. Then you told his story while you were cooking. As an educator, that’s brilliant.
A. Yes. I thought, this is my former student, he developed this mold, he developed this recipe. I’m an educator, I’m going to pull this in. I’m going to teach this mousse. I’m going to show off his skill in developing this silicone mold and formulating this recipe because I’m so proud of this young man, so I’m going to teach my lesson on carrageenan. But, I had to do a whole plate so I ended up bringing in some higher level cuisine. We also made an avocado espuma or a foam, but my main focus was on that corn mousse and that carrageenan and teaching a lesson on that carrageenan.
Q: No wonder you won, that’s awesome.
A: I have this mechanism that I use with my students where I have this pre-and post assessment sheet. I ask them questions before the lessons and if they can answer them, great, if they can’t, they leave it blank. Simple questions like where does carrageenan come from. Maybe they don’t even know what carrageenan is. My goal is, they don’t know much of this. But, then if I give them this at the end of the class and they can answer all of them. Then I have a benchmark to measure it to so I can prove that learning took place.
Q: Did anyone else do it that way?
QUESTION: What does that top national medal mean to you?
ANSWER: It means a lot for the school and I know the students are proud of me. For me in general, its just what I do. It’s just what I love to do.
Q: It’s no big deal?
A: We teach a competition class here at the culinary institute. That’s my first thing I say to the students. We compete to get better and to learn. We don’t compete to win. One of thy funny sayings I tell them is “When you win the competition and you put the medal on that night its awesome, but if you put it on the next day you are an (expletive). They always laugh about that.