Imagine this: You’re an aspiring chef who, in just three short months, has advanced from learning basic knife skills to using various cooking techniques as an apprentice in Atlanta’s premiere restaurants. Now it’s time for your first big test. You don’t know exactly what you’ll be cooking, only that the challenge will require you to use the skills you’ve learned since the beginning of class. It’s time to put your culinary skills to the test in the Mystery Basket challenge.
Similar to reality cooking competition shows like “Chopped” and “Top Chef,” Mystery Basket is a semi-annual event for our Culinary Apprenticeship students. Chef and program instructor Robert Gerstenecker carefully selects mystery ingredients based on what the students have learned so far in the course. He then assembles the ingredients into covered baskets, which the students select at random. The goal of the fast-paced challenge is to use the contents of the basket to cook a complete main course dish in 90 minutes. Unlike the cooking shows seen on TV, the students compete against themselves rather than each other.
“Our Mystery Basket [challenge] allows students to show the culinary techniques learned, challenges them to be creative, and develops their confidence,” said Chef Gerstenecker. “All are areas they will need to demonstrate in any kitchen.”
On Dec. 12, our largest Culinary Apprenticeship class to date completed their first Mystery Basket challenge, with students successfully preparing unique and tasty dishes, including mackerel en Papillote with mixed Confit vegetables, egg roll tacos with salsa, and bacon-wrapped chicken breast with jalapeno cheddar stuffing. As part of the challenge, all students receive expert critique of their completed dish from Chef Gerstenecker.
This review will benefit the students as they progress in the Culinary Apprenticeship program and continue their restaurant rotations. Students will once again put their skills to the test in the final Mystery Basket challenge, held later in the spring.
“The Mystery Basket [challenge] let me feel what’s it’s like to be in charge of a dish from beginning to end, said Culinary Apprenticeship student Alonso Fuentes. I was a bit nervous at first, but once I got into it, I enjoyed the challenge.”
KSU’s Culinary Apprenticeship certificate program is an 8-month intensive program that teaches the skills needed to succeed in today’s hospitality industry. Classes are held in the KSU Center’s professional catering kitchen. Students also receive hands-on experience in the kitchens of accomplished chefs as they complete four rotations between several prestigious Atlanta restaurants and catering venues.