Creative dishes, teamwork win LAU graduates recognition at cooking contest
Paola Sassine and Jeffrey Mucullum got the silver medal in the Live Junior Chef Competition at BIEL, Beirut.
Students learn cooking and delivery techniques at an LAU hospitality management lab.
The smell of cooked salmon and shrimp placed on top of pasta and ratatouille wafted through the air as the two young chefs made the final touches and dressed the main dish with a caviar dressing.
LAU graduates Paola Sassine and Jeffrey Mucullum presented the dish — along with a salad in the form of a bouquet — at the HORECA 2009, a hospitality and food event held at BIEL, Beirut, in late April.
Sassine’s and Mucullum’s passion for cooking won them the silver medal in the Live Junior Chef Competition as part of HORECA, which featured exhibitions of hotel, catering and food products, presentations of hospitality services, demos by seasoned Lebanese and international chefs, workshops, and culinary competitions by professionals and students.
It was the first time LAU participated in the event. “It’s a pride for LAU and the Hospitality Management Department because we delivered this kind of food with students not majoring in hospitality,” says George Tamer, LAU hospitality lab supervisor.
Sassine graduated with a B.A. in psychology and Mucullum with a B.S. in marketing — both in 2008.
The Hospitality Management Department chose them to represent LAU as a team due to their high potentials, and constant participation and service at hospitality events and projects at the university.
They had become familiar with practical techniques of cooking and delivery by taking the Food Preparation I and II, and Baking Pastry and Chocolate courses at LAU.
“They both know how to handle the equipment and how to behave in the kitchen,” says Tamer, adding that their dishes are full of creativity and unique flavors.
“It was important not necessarily to win [at the contest] but at least to leave a good impression,” says Sassine. And they made it. Besides the silver medal, they also received one of the Appreciation in Hygiene awards for their high sanitation standards.
“This truly reflects the hygiene level we have at LAU,” says Mucullum.
But the achievement didn’t come without preparation. After a month of consultation with LAU’s hospitality professors about the recipes and practice sessions, Sassine and Mucullum were ready to present “the best, smart, classy and appealing dishes,” as Tamer describes.
The four kinds of tapas they presented showed the two cooks’ ability to experiment with a medley of ingredients and flavors — exotic mango and pineapple; aromatic thyme, parsley and carry; flavored chicken and salmon; and Lebanese tabouleh without olive oil made of artichoke dipped in lemon.
The dexterity, teamwork and high spirits Sassine and Mucullum showed at the competition attracted people to their stand and drew the judges’ attention.
“We had so much fun. We were practically doing the cooking blindfold,” Sassine says.
“The judges were positively responding to us. They were laughing with us and told us that we were … the only ones who were having fun,” explains Mucullum.
Sassine and Mucullum managed to stay calm despite the fierce competition against nine major technical schools and hotel management universities including the Saint Joseph University, Notre Dame University, University of Balamand, American University of Science and Technology, and C&E American University Institute.
According to Tamer, in next year’s competition the department is planning to further improve the hygiene standards, and acquire more appealing and sophisticated equipment that could attract a wider audience.