August 31, 2011

One Shot and One Opportunity

By Dan Castro, AOS Culinary

Thomas D’Ambrosio ’11
Thomas D’Ambrosio ’11

Thomas D’Ambrosio ’11 recently won a Gold Medal at the SkillsUSA National Competition in Kansas City. In his “student spotlight” article located on the school’s webpage, D’Ambrosio encourages all to “get involved, as time goes by too fast.” Prior to the competition, he participated in the Certified Master Chef Exam as an apprentice for now Certified Master Chef Richard Rosendale of The Greenbrier. Thomas was involved in SACE (Students for Advanced Career Experience) preparing several dishes for Paul Bocuse, Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller at the Augie Awards in Spring 2011.

D’Ambrosio’s road to the National Competition began when he participated in the Skills USA “Quickfire.” This contest required a knife tray showcasing fabrication of a whole chicken, basic vegetable knife cuts (such as julienne and brunoise), and a cup of mayonnaise. He then moved on to the “In-House” competition where he had to execute a four course meal. This required soup, a composed salad and two entrees: “Roast Chicken with Pan Gravy, Pommes Puree and Glazed Carrots” and “Duxelle Stuffed Chicken with Risotto and Jardinière Vegetables.” These first two portions of the competition were judged by The Culinary Institute of America’s Chef Instructors: Robert Mullooly, (Lead Advisor) and CIA Chefs Bruce Mattel, (SkillsUSA National Chair), Remolina, Soileau and McCue. The esteemed panel of judges determined who went to the New York State competition at Alfred State College on the basis of mastery and combining classic and basic techniques along with maximum product utilization. Though creativity was allowed, it only amounted for a miniscule part of the judging process.

In the state competition, D’Ambrosio had the privilege of competing with other students from various culinary schools. The task given was a market basket in which he had to make four portions of a menu that consisted of a composed salad, pureed soup (Butternut Squash), a plated appetizer (Seared Scallops, Concaseed Tomatoes, Beurre Blanc and Julienned Zucchini) and an entrée (Lamb Steaks with Carrot Puree and Duchesse Potatoes). In this part of the competition, the judges focused on the portions and utilization of the product as well as the mastery of basic techniques. As he passed States, he then went on to Nationals where he was again given a market basket with specific instruction that the proteins had to be made with a specific cooking method and sauce. D’Ambrosio’s National Competition Menu consisted of an “Arugula Salad with Lemon Thyme Vinaigrette,” and two entrees: “Sautéed Chicken Breast, Polenta Cake and Sauce Finnes Herbes” and “Poached Salmon Roulade stuffed with Duxelle, Lemon Grain Salad and Beurre Blanc.” His soup was a “Consommé with Vegetable Brunoise.” After a grueling six hours of work and judging, he became successful in delivering a sixth straight SkillsUSA medal for The Culinary Institute of America!

Behind the scenes of D’Ambrosio’s training, SkillsUSA exposed themselves to the student body, holding several events ranging from small ice cream socials and informational club meetings to major events such as a knife skills challenge and two “Skills Nights” in which the participants formed teams and composed menus with Chef Mullooly supervising each teams’ actions. As the membership and interest in joining the club is high, President Vivianna Depolito states that involvement in SkillsUSA is a life changing experience as “most people do not know all the benefits that the club has to offer.” She strongly believes that D’Ambrosio’s achievment would be a good source of inspiration for those who would like to achieve success.

The journey of this competition, as D’Ambrosio states, was “intense” as he recalls Sunday practices with Chefs Mullooly and Remolina. Along with the desire to live up to the grand expectations as a student from the, “World’s Premier Culinary College,” there was much pressure. For these reasons, he found this experience exciting by reciting lyrics from Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” stating that he only had “one shot and one opportunity.” With the opportunities presented to him, he found mentors, improved kitchen skills and mental fortitude in a high-pressured environment. D’Ambrosio also developed a family of mentors (chef judges) and friends as he slowly started to grasp the concepts of SkillsUSA.

The motto of SkillsUSA is, “Preparing for leadership in a world of work.” Throughout this competition, D’Ambrosio, according to C.S. Lewis, has conquered the most brutal of teachers: experience. It is widely known that what does not kill anybody makes one stronger, and these series of events have indeed made him just that. Until he reaches the true peak of his potential, these memories, accompanied with the hardware will forever stay with him as he applies this knowledge in situations while simultaneously passing this wisdom back to people. Until then, he is just another culinary student celebrating his waning days at The Culinary by overtoasting noodles for Fedua in the Dargan/Rovetti kitchen.