Heading to nationals

MARSHALL – A team of four culinology students and an alternate from Southwest Minnesota State University will travel to Portland, Ore. on March 13 to try to find an answer to a vexing problem, how to get high school students to eat fish.

The team is one of six teams from universities in the U.S., Canada and Malaysia who will be competing in the Research Chefs Association competition to come up with a dish that meets certain standards. It has to be Northwest regional style, it must be based on pollock, it must conform to low-sodium requirements, it must be palatable for students grades 9-12, and it has to be food truck “grab and go” ready.

“SMSU has won first place twice and third place once,” said Michael Chang, director of the Department of Culinology and Hospitality Management. “There’s nothing like having a big target on your back.”

The six teams were selected from an original 24 entrants who submitted a recipe and marketing plan.

“Since it was based around high schoolers we had to meet all nutritional needs and have it still taste good,” said team member Alissa Partain. “We researched the favorite foods of high schoolers, it’s french fries. So we try to hide the fish in potatoes and cheese so they don’t know it’s there. Our research says high schoolers don’t like fish.”

The recipe is inspired by Chinese dim sum dumplings and Polish pierogi.

“There’s a similar Asian dish named curry pufflings, but people kept calling them dumplings, so they’re pufflings,” Partain said.

Hence the name of the team.

On Wednesday, the team put together a sample of the dish to be frozen and packed in dry ice.

“We’ll take the frozen product and the judges will reheat it while we prepare a fresh version,” said team captain Erin Badzinski. “They’ll compare them side by side. I think we have a really strong product.”

The first-place prize is a check for $5,000, which should help cover the expenses of the trip, but there are other advantages.

“The RCA conference is bar none the best networking opportunity culinology students have,” said team member Eric Iserman. “It’s the best way for students to get a foot in the door of the food products development industry.”