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The Challenge of Competing – Take Two

January 22, 2013

Preparing for a dinner party can raise anxiety levels in any cook and entering the prestigious Cast Iron Skillet Cook-Off to be held at The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs with a team of unknown help can result in more than a few sleepless nights. But James Beard nominee Scott Collinash believes he will dream better now. His team has had their sanctioned practice session and he knows this is definitely going to work.DSC_0030


Gathering at Berkeley Spring’s Panorama on the Peak, the team reviewed the menu and their assignments before heading into the kitchen.

The preparation that has kept Chef Scott and restaurant owners Patti Miller and Leslie Hotaling busy has included detailed assignments of each team member’s tasks, including assembling all the ingredients and equipment needed to complete one of the recipes.  DSC_0029The first step for team members was to review the lists and check all the items at their station.


The differences between trained commercial chefs and home cooks of various levels of skill became apparent immediately. As the cooking session ran its timed hour, it became obvious that the work station review had not been done adequately and during the course of the cooking there were frequent shouts for “bowl needed!” or “Where’s my butter?”. The chef had purposely omitted at least one item at each station that was on the list and the team members will be much more observant when setting up their prep areas at the competition following that exercise.

Restaurant kitchen space is notoriously small, but when you crowd ten people into a tiny room, each ends up with a work space of about two feet. Fitting all the food, equipment and the gas burner used for cooking in that space will make the four 8-foot tables assigned to them at the competition seem spacious.DSC_0065

The count-down clock started and activity revved up. The Chef manned the prep station but frequent calls for “Chef Check!” punctuated the hour and it became very obvious that the Pro-Start student assigned to the team will be welcomed eagerly at that station. As various other members of the team completed their tasks, they relieved the Chef at the prep station and Chef Scott’s time was then spent moving from station to station to verify quality of completion.DSC_0056DSC_0058DSC_0055DSC_0050DSC_0053

DSC_0102Despite the relative levels of skill of the team members and the tight quarters, all four dishes were prepared well within the mandated time period. After being plated and then carried out to the dining room as practice for presentation to the competition judges, the team tucked in and enjoyed the fruit of their labor.DSC_0169

DSC_0159Another sit down discussion followed to analyze issues that occurred and ways to improve technique.  And at least one more chorus of the restaurant’s acclaimed theme song was belted out with enthusiasm.DSC_0158

The Cast Iron Skillet Cook-Off takes place Saturday, February 2 and is open to be viewed by the public. Tasting of the prepared foods is restricted to the judges but you have the sublime opportunity to eat the entire meal this Friday, January 25 at the Panorama on the Peak. reservations are required and the meal is $50 per person with 30% being a donation to cover the costs incurred to participate in this prestigious competition.

Panorama on the Peak  3299 Cacapon Road (Route 9), Berkeley Springs, WV 304-258-0050

Just two hours from Washington, DC and two hours from Morgantown, WV.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. January 22, 2013 8:09 am

    An interesting post to read. I love to cook and did win 2nd place with a dessert many years ago in a cook-off of sorts, we brought our items already made and then the judges tasted them and deliberated.

    • January 22, 2013 8:19 am

      A local farm market I work with in Huntington, the Wild Ramp, held an apple bake-off in October and a gingerbread house contest in December. Those were a lot of fun. The Cast Iron Skillet Cook-off is a way to show the world that West Virginia has some really fine food and people should come visit! Certainly if you are within a couple of hours of the Eastern Panhandle, you should visit Panorama on the Peak. It is only 15 minutes off I-70.

  2. January 22, 2013 4:28 pm

    Fun to look at all these pictures – Thank you Beth! Everyone did a great job! Chef Scott reported a sound sleep last night – for the first time since we committed to the competition. Jennifer from Black Dog Coffee Roasters has what may be the biggest challenge – leading our esteemed crew in song. But they did a bang up job with that yesterday, too – AND, it’s a good thing it’s not a singing competition…

    • January 23, 2013 9:55 pm

      I think there will be a few other voices that join in at least on the chorus. LOL

  3. January 24, 2013 7:01 am

    Wow, what fun! How did the home cooks do? I always vote for them for obvious reasons LOL.

    • January 24, 2013 7:05 am

      I should say, how did they do in the end. did they get over being lost in a commercial kitchen?

      • January 24, 2013 7:25 am

        The space in the restaurant’s kitchen was so tight with 6 people trying to work in about ten feet of space that the competition’s 4 8-foot tables will be roomy in comparison. Everyone had some issues because of the cramped space, but the important thing is that the dishes all got prepared within the time allotment and afterwards, once the stress was gone, they admitted it was a lot of fun.

    • January 26, 2013 8:24 pm

      Everyone did well. preparing their assignment. I think the practice helped everyone realize it all is achievable.

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