Ohio State’s Stalnaker gets the competitive foodie bug
By Adam King
But using an unfamiliar induction burner, the Ohio State culinary instructor allowed his blackberry-ginger beurre rouge, a sauce he perfectly whisked countless times before, to end up a little runny.
That proved the difference between winning a bronze medal instead of silver for the first-time competitor in the National Association of College and University Food Services Midwest Region Culinary Challenge at the University of Missouri.
“The sauce is supposed to reduce to what is called au sec, which means almost dry,” said Stalnaker, who teaches undergraduate and graduate cooking labs for Hospitality Management students through the Office of Student Life Dining Services. “It didn’t and it was a little too loose. I never missed it on the practice runs. The burner was a little different at the competition, but everyone had the exact same challenge with the equipment.”
It is considered a point of pride just to be invited to compete. After chefs submitted their dishes for consideration, using the main ingredient of duck as inspiration, only nine competitors from the nine-state region were chosen. In an American Culinary Federation-sponsored challenge, all could receive gold medals or everyone could go home empty-handed.
Stalnaker spent more than four weeks developing his menu and the recipes, then perfecting his dish: A pan-seared duck breast with the beurre rouge (a red wine reduction); shitake and leek risotto; petite red, orange and yellow carrots with marinated blackberries; and an apple and petite green salad with aged sherry vinaigrette.
He leaned on the expertise of fellow chefs in Dining Services to help him refine his approach.
“We have a lot of good people here and it was nice to get some collaboration,” Stalnaker said. “I was happy with how I did. My goal was to get enough points to medal.”
The university’s spring break proved the perfect time to play “Beat the Clock.” Stalnaker used the whole week to practice cooking within the allotted 60 minutes each chef is given to prepare the food. But there was a difference. He wasn’t yet cooking in front of the hundreds of people watching the challenge, nor could he replicate the new experience of having television cameras follow every pat of butter he threw into a pan.
Only six of the nine competitors walked away with a medal — a gold, two silvers and three bronzes — but given time to reflect, Stalnaker is perturbed that he didn’t do better. He is considering entering competitions in July or August in nearby Indianapolis to see if he can serve a perfect plate.
“The only technical thing they hit me on was my sauce reduction,” he said. “In everything else they said my flavors were good and everything was right.”
Stalnaker got his first taste of a culinary competition last year when, on the Saturday before the Michigan game, he joined four other Ohio State chefs — Roger Garland, executive chef at the Ohio Union; Jeffrey Arthur, executive sous chef at Ohio Union Catering; Patrick Murphy, sous chef, who leads off-site catering; and Chad Osborne, service coordinator at Union Market — at the Culinary Vegetable Institute’s Rivalry Challenge in Milan, Ohio, to take on a team from Michigan. The CVI is a renowned repository for micro greens and other fresh sustainable agriculture that ship worldwide and are used by the top restaurants.
Stalnaker didn’t cook, he just helped plate the eight courses for 150 people — half Ohio State fans and half Michigan fans. Their votes chose the winner.
“We won by a pretty good margin,” Stalnaker said. “This year I’m sure they’ll step up again too.”
Stalnaker never considered cooking until college, but his grandmothers raised him to appreciate that good food doesn’t come from a frozen box. His West Virginia grandmother would whip up green beans from her garden, cornbread in a cast-iron skillet and fresh catfish she caught in the nearby river. His Italian grandmother was a patient perfectionist with her from-scratch cooking.
“My dad always said the secret to her marinara sauce was cigarette ashes and sweat because she would just stand over that pot all day and smoke while doing it,” he said.
Stalnaker began his culinary adventure when, while working as a hotel dishwasher to pay for his rent while at Marshall University, he was pulled to the kitchen line to replace a cook who had quit on the spot. After a few days of walking Stalnaker through the paces, he was left to work the stations on his own.
He cooked at the hotel for two years, and the creativity of what he was doing convinced him to attend culinary school. He became a sous chef after graduation and was promoted to chef just a year later.
In 21 years of reflection, he couldn’t imagine doing anything else, and he loves passing on his knowledge to others: Whether it be students learning to make a soup or a sauce for the first time or teaching advanced knife skills to the cooks at Ohio State.
“Looking back when I was younger, I didn’t think that I liked to cook,” Stalnaker said. “But when my cousins were outside playing, I was helping my grandmother in the kitchen to bake cookies. At the time I thought it was just so I could be the first to lick the spoon.”
¼ cup Popcorn Shoots-micro
2 T. Tatsoi-Petite
2 T. Bok Choy-Petite
2 T. Red Ribbon Sorrel-Petite
1 Purple Ninja Radish-Brunoise
½ t. Chives-micro
½ t. citrus coriander bloom-micro
½ t. midnight spice-micro
1 Granny Smith Apples-Julienne
1 Lemon to preserve apples
1/4 Cup olive oil
1 teaspoon – Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon – shallots-minced
1 teaspoon – Calabria Peppers
1 teaspoon – Juice from Peppers
2 Tablespoons – Aged Sherry Vinegar
Salt and Pepper to taste
1. For salad, julienne apples and reserve in water with juice of one lemon until ready to serve brunoise radish and hold in chilled water.
2. For Vinaigrette, mince Calabria Peppers and combine with all ingredients except olive oil, then whisk in olive oil to form an emulsification, adjust seasoning.
3. At Service toss all salad ingredients with vinaigrette and serve.
Shitake and Leek Risotto
2 T. Olive Oil
3 T. Butter
1-1/2 cups – Shitake Mushrooms-sliced
½ cup Leeks-sliced
1 oz. Shallots
3 cups Chicken Stock
1 cup Arborio Rice
½ cup Pinot Grigio
¼ cup Asiago
Salt and Pepper to taste
1. In 2-3 oz. of butter, sauté mushrooms until tender. Hold.
2. In Olive oil and 2 oz. of butter, sauté leeks and shallots until tender.
3. Add Rice and cook until edges appear translucent. Add wine and simmer until almost absorbed.
4. Add hot stock continuously 6 oz. at a time until almost absorbed each time.
5. When halfway, add mushrooms and continue.
6. Cook until rice is al dente. Add Asiago and serve.
Petite Carrots with Lightly marinated Blackberries
8 ea. red carrots-petite
8 ea. yellow carrots-petite
8 ea. orange carrots-petite
1 T. olive oil
1 t. honey
½ t. shallots-minced
½ t. ginger-minced
1 T. pinot noir reduction, from beurre rouge recipe
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring water to boil, reduce and simmer for for 2-3 minutes. Shock in ice water bath. Seven minutes before service, heat 1 Tablespoon olive oil and sauté until al dente. Separately, put Ginger, Shallots, Honey and Wine reduction in bowl and combine well, toss in the Blackberries and let sit at room temperature for 10 minutes; serve as garnish with carrots.
Pan-seared duck and
blackberry-ginger beurre rouge
2 ea.-Duck Breast (6-7 oz.)
2 cups-Pinot Noir
12 ea. Blackberries
1 ea. Shallot-fine slice
1 oz. Ginger-peeled, fine slice
1.5 oz. Butter-cold
Salt and Pepper to taste
1. Combine Pinot Noir, Blackberries, Shallots and gGnger in saucepan; bring to boil.
2. Reduce to simmer and allow to reduce until wine begins to thicken (about 2/3 to 3/4).
3. Strain out all ingredients and return to boil; remove from heat and swirl cold butter to emulsify.
4. Adjust seasoning and serve on side and slightly under duck breast.
1. Pat Duck dry with towel and season with salt and pepper to taste.
2. Start duck skin-side down on medium heat and cook 4-5 minutes until browned.
3. Turn over and finish cooking to medium rare 4-5 minutes.
4. Allow duck breast to rest 5 minutes. Slice the breast and serve 1/2 breast shingled (3.5 oz.).