Grace under pressure

In the Kaua‘i Community College culinary-arts kitchen, first-year culinary students Kalani Amdur and Skyler Ballantine practiced and practiced, perfecting their presentations for this year’s culinary challenge in Honolulu.

Amdur placed his hand on the raw rack of lamb as he watched the clock. Counting down the seconds, he only had an hour to cut, cook and complete his dish.

On the other side of the kitchen, fellow first-year culinary student Ballantine piped the batter for her ladyfingers onto a baking tray.

Amdur was practicing cooking up his Spicy Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb for the hour-long, hot-dish competition, while Ballantine was creating six tropical desserts.

The two have been preparing for this competition for the past month, going to the kitchens in their spare time, working to make sure they get their dishes just right.

“I have to have my dish complete from start to finish in a hour,” Amdur said. “And I get an extra five minutes to plate my dish.” He had to practice in intervals, each time closely watching the clock so he can figure out a pace.

Amdur decided to prepare lamb for his dish because it’s something he’s a big fan of.

“I wanted to do something (people) like to eat. I’m being judged on taste, presentation, cleanliness, and how I do it,” Amdur said. “The past few times I’ve done it, I had to perfect what I needed to do first, what I wanted to put in it, and what worked, then adjusting it.” Amdur said the hardest part of the process is cutting down the lamb, and cutting the fat off.

“If you were doing it at home, you wouldn’t be trying to get it all done in a hour,” he said.

Unlike Amdur, Ballantine had to have her desserts completed before leaving for Honolulu.

Ballantine said Saturday was when everything had to be packed up and ready to go. She had scribbled down a full-page, two-column list of everything she needed.

“Yeah, I needed to add more,” Ballantine said.

“I had to get everything done and wrapped and ready to go.” Just in case things got tossed around before getting to the final destination, Ballantine made sure she had plenty of extra ingredients packed as a backup.

“It’s all about the presentation,” she said.

“I went for a classic look, with a little contemporary touch. I took triangles, which is more contemporary, and incorporated curves, which is classic.” Results of the Monday com2006petition were not available by press time. Amdur here shares his recipe for his lamb dish.

Spicy Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb with Port Wine Jus, Creamy Polenta, Pesto and Buttered Asparagus


2 each bone-in lamb rack

1 cup white bread crumbs

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 ounce extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 teaspoon fresh mint, chopped

2 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped

2 teaspoon rosemary, chopped

2 teaspoon curly parsley, chopped

12 each asparagus, blanched, seasoned

salt and pepper to taste

French rack or cut off the fat of the lamb, season and sear. Brush with mustard, crust with mixture of crumbs, oil and spices, and roast until internal temperature is 120 degrees.

Polenta and Pesto:

1/2 cup dry polenta

1 tablespoon fresh basil, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

3 ounces grated Parmesan cheese

2 ounces olive oil

1/2 cup water

4 ounces cream

Salt and pepper to taste

Add polenta to seasoned boiling water, stir until smooth and fully cooked, for about 20 to 30 minutes.

Add cream and cheese.

Make pesto from basil, pine nuts, cheese, garlic and olive oil. Blend all ingredients in a blender to form a smooth emulsion. Add water to adjust texture; adjust seasonings.

Port Wine Jus:

1 quart lamb stock

1/2 pound lamb meat scraps

1/2 pound mirepoix (4 ounces carrots, 2 ounces onions, 2 ounces celery, chopped)

2 ounces port wine

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped

1 ounce oil 1 tablespoon butter, unsalted

Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté lamb meat and scraps until well-browned. Add wine and reduce wine and herbs. Add stock, reduce, and strain. Finish with butter and season.

Cooked buttered asparagus as desired.

For the presentation, plate polenta. Place lamb on bed of polenta. Garnish with asparagus, pesto and port wine jus.


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